AutoExtraction: What is it?

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Automated mining uses robotics, GPS and other technologies to reduce the need for human labor. Mining companies have sought greater automation since the 1990s, forming partnerships with manufacturers. Automated mining allows for remote monitoring and operation, with an offsite control center. Communication technologies are essential for the success of automated mining.

Automated mining is a process that uses robotics, computers, global positioning sensors (GPS), and other technologies to eliminate or reduce the need for human labor. Rather than each piece of equipment being operated by a person, trucks, drills and various other pieces of heavy equipment are all designed or retrofitted with advanced robotics. This automated mining process allows a relatively small number of people to monitor the entire operation from an offsite location. Some automated mining processes can operate without a single human employee in the chain between mining and shipping because even the trucks and trains that connect the operation to a port can be automated.

Mining companies have sought greater automation since at least the 1990s, although the technology to fully automate a mine didn’t exist until about 2008. At the time, mining companies formed strategic partnerships with manufacturers of robotics and other technology industries to achieve a greater degree of automation. One of the first automated mining projects was in Western Australia where an existing iron ore mine was fitted with advanced robotics and other equipment as a test bed for a fully automated operation nearby. Since these mines were very remote, plans included fully automating the delivery system as well to get the iron ore into port for shipment.

The automated mining process is similar to various automated manufacturing processes, although the scale is slightly different. Large-scale mining operations make use of very large equipment that needs to be monitored quite closely. In addition to the advanced robotics capable of operating this type of machinery, GPS can also be used to track the location of each component in the system and also allow the machines to track their own positions in relation to each other. These types of advances can allow a mine to operate with relatively little human interaction, although some oversight is still required.

Mines that have been automated typically have an offsite control center where operations can be monitored by a number of human employees. Since these control centers are off site, advances in communication technologies have also been instrumental in the advent of automated mining. Every aspect of a mining operation can be observed from these control centers, and necessary changes can usually be made to increase efficiency. Close monitoring is also required in case something goes wrong because there are no employees on site to account for broken or malfunctioning equipment.

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