Modern Mining March 2023

machines are equipped with automated machine navigation and tramming, so there is no need for an onboard operator. Typically, at Level 3 single autono mous machines will operate in their own pre-defined independent safety zones. Level 4 takes the level of automation up consid erably, building on the previous levels to create full autonomous systems, where multiple autonomous machines are managed by an integrated central traf fic management system. The machines operate in predefined safety zones that are dynamically com bined to create autonomous operating areas. Any operating area perimeter safety breach causes the machines in the system to stop. The final level, Level 5, is the full autonomous mine, where intelligent machines are able to execute the mining schedule based on mine model and plan. At this level, no human intervention for a specified time, typically a shift, is required. “Our objective at the VUP is to reach Level 4 autonomous production by 2026,” says Marais. “Level 4 autonomous development will probably take longer as it is inherently more difficult. As for Level 5, the full autonomous mine, we do not believe the technology is quite there to achieve this level of sophistication by 2026. But it remains our vision. Autonomous mining technology is developing con tinuously and Level 5 is on the near horizon.” Autonomous mining not only creates a safer and healthier environment for workers (by removing them from potentially high-risk areas of the mine) but, if implemented correctly, is also more productive

was sometimes double that of trucks working in the traditional manner. Marais says that while the Finsch system was revolutionary it was also limited in some respects. “The system was limited to one machine type – articulated dump trucks – performing one process, namely hauling, on a single level of the mine,” he explains. “By contrast, at the VUG we will eventually have a number of mining systems operational, with a variety of machines, not just ADTs, executing mul tiple mining processes within the same operational area. These systems will be deployed and operate simultaneously during a shift on different levels of the mine.” Breed also mentions that the data and analytics tools available when the Finsch loop was launched were primitive compared to what is available today. “The result was that much of the data generated by the machines was not put to optimum use,” he says. The introduction of automation at the VUG will be guided by a road map that De Beers Group has developed, which identifies the levels of automation the VUG will move through to achieve autonomous mining operations within the constraints of current regulations. Level 1 is mechanised mining, where the operator rides onboard machines such as drills, loaders and trucks and is a necessary prerequisite of automation. At Level 2, automation is introduced and the mecha nised machines deployed still have an operator but are able to perform repetitive tasks under computer control. At the next level, Level 3, autonomous

The Sandvik DD422i is a development drill rig based on an intelligent control system.

Autonomous mining not only creates a safer and healthier environment for workers (by removing them from potentially implemented correctly, is also more productive than traditional techniques when measured in terms of output against available operating time. high-risk areas of the mine) but, if

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