Cartoonist Harry Bruce's take on a Bowen Basin mine leading the charge towards a fully automated underground operation.
Cartoonist Harry Bruce's take on a Bowen Basin mine leading the charge towards a fully automated underground operation. Harry Bruce

Mine’s automated longwall operation ‘exemplary’

A BOWEN Basin mine is leading the charge towards a fully automated underground operation.

Glencore's Oaky North mine between Tieri and Middlemount is progressing towards a fully automated longwall operation "as far as it's able at this point".

Oaky North underground mine manager Michael Downs told the Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry the operation was making "very good progress" toward automated systems, and the longwall was able to be remotely operated from the surface.

"The automation of longwall mining is something the industry the world over has been trying to do for quite some time, and my experience both in New South Wales and in Queensland would show the progress we are making at Oaky North is really quite exemplary," Mr Downs said.

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Oaky North underground mine.
Oaky North underground mine.

"It is a very good system.

"It is proving to be quite reliable under most circumstances, and I would suggest that we are seeing very good results."

The automated system could now make two passes of the shearer along the face before any intervention from personnel, Mr Downs said.

"And then we normally have to intervene with personnel in the working area to conduct checks and do various aspects of maintenance before you can achieve another two shears or two passes of the machine," he said.

"There is no condition at this point where there is no human intervention, no crew intervention, with the operation.

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"We can sustain remote operations for relatively short periods of time in terms of a shift duration, but, no, we haven't got to the level whereby the conditions would allow extended automated operation."

Mr Downs said full automation without personnel intervention would be dependent on several factors, particularly relating to equipment after certain periods of production.

"So I think that while we might be able to improve our current situation, to get that to being able to operate for, say, a full shift, say 12 hours as a nominal period, I think that is going to take some further development of key componentry," he said.

"I think the objective is to automate the operation as far as we possibly can, whatever that might be.

"It does not necessarily have an intermediate target."

Mr Downs said crews on an automated operation generally undertook maintenance issues such as changing out cutting tools and the picks, or checking fluid levels in the machine.

The automated shearer was being used most days but was "very much so" dependent on conditions.