World-leading underground automation technology lowers workplace risk
September 10, 2013

A gold and copper mine in Central West NSW is using one of the most advanced underground automation systems in the world to improve safety and productivity.   


Underground mining began at Rio Tinto’s Northparkes Mines, located 27km from the town of Parkes, in 1997, and since then the mine has been a leader in developing and trialling new technologies.   


One of these is the autonomous loader - loaders controlled remotely by operators in an above-ground control room. The machines work by themselves travelling along pre-programmed routes, and the operators use joy sticks and pedals to control the machines when they load ore.   



Because the loaders work automatically most of the time, one operator can control up to three loaders at a time. This world-leading technology means that mining can happen for an extra three hours a day when there is nobody in the mine, increasing efficiency.   


But most importantly, the autonomous loader makes the workplace safer, by removing people from the hazards of the underground environment.   


“The holy grail for underground innovation is to simply remove people from the underground environment and let the machines do the work,” says Dr. Joe Cronin, Northparkes’ loader automation project manager.   


As the minerals are deeper and become more difficult to extract, innovations like the autonomous loader pioneered at this mine are increasingly important to keeping our world class miners safe in the workplace. 

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