Automation is one of the key trends breaking ground in almost all business sectors across the globe but extraction is often an industry behind in terms of the adoption of this technology. By DANIEL SCULLY, pre-sales engineer-monitoring, 3D Laser Mapping.
AUTOMATION TECHNOLOGY STANDS to make processes more efficient and conditions safer for workers in some of the most hazardous jobs.
LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is one such technology helping to drive change in commercial and domestic environments. LiDAR uses the pulsed light from a laser to collect measurements, with calculations made based on the amount of time it takes for the laser to reach an object and reflect back to the scanner. Many LiDAR sensors are capable of collecting over 1,000,000 measurements per second, meaning that stockpiles and highways can be scanned and mapped in minutes.
LiDAR is already being used to improve safety records in notoriously dangerous industries such as agriculture which experienced 111 workplace fatalities here between 2011 and 2016. Tasks that would previously have seen workers exposed to either heavy machinery or hazardous environments are now completed using automated vehicles and processes, which use LiDAR for navigation or calculations.
Automated inventory management
Laser scanning is well suited to the mining and quarrying environment thanks in part to the level of accuracy and detail that can be gained from a single scan.
Yet, the true benefits are really revealed when the technology is used as part of a continual monitoring strategy for scanning and monitoring slopes, tunnels and stockpiles. Using time-series scans from static or mobile scanners, the software can automatically warn of structural change, deformation and even stockpile shortages without the need for visual inspections.
In 2015, this country produced 39 million tonnes of aggregates, with over half of it used on the nation’s roads. The logistics surrounding this level of output can mean hundreds of man hours spent climbing up stockpiles and using GPS data to generate largely inaccurate measurements. Some operators report that it used to take up to five days to recover stockpile data, which is costly, time consuming and inconvenient for any business that has a high level of stock turnover.
Any task that poses a risk to workers should be automated where possible and remote sensors are capable of monitoring faces and slopes to give prior warning of a potential event. Strategically placed LiDAR sensors carry out time-series scans which are compared automatically to reveal increased rock-fall or structural weaknesses where work is being carried out.
Sensors can also be set up to detect surface movements or moisture leakage, allowing for critical decisions to be made in advance of an incident. Data is sent directly to a central computer which can then be easily shared with external stakeholders and mining or quarrying operatives on the ground.
Drone’s eye view
Commercial drones and an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) provide a birds-eye perspective for many industrial sectors, from surveying to security.
However, a downside with standard drones is the need to rely on standard photography equipment to calculate measurements via photogrammetry. This method is limited in that it requires images to be taken in good light. LiDAR sensors can work in more unstable weather conditions and in areas prone to dust. So, the combination of UAVs and lightweight LiDAR sensors has meant that surveyors and business operators now have the best of both worlds – remote access to hazardous areas, with the ability to acquire accurate data on a regular basis.
A report in 2008 estimated this country has unexploited resources (of just seven core minerals including gold, copper, iron and molybdenum) worth in the region of $140 billion, signifying that the sector still has the potential for significant growth. There’s also the figure for aggregates to consider; the revenue from 39 million tonnes produced in 2015 was a staggering $502 million. So it’s imperative that the extractives sector adopts automation technology to help improve production performance and safety.
Okay, technology such as LiDAR doesn’t totally replace human intervention but it goes a long way towards stream-lining processes and improving working conditions.