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Modern Mining Techniques

A Look at Automated Mining Equipmen

by William Ngunjiri
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Mining technology has a rich history which dates back to 40000 BCE when early humans used simple tools made of stone, bone, and wood to extract minerals and metals. It has since evolved from such primitive techniques to more advanced methods.
The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were the first civilizations to develop advanced mining methods in 5000 BCE such as underground mining and water-powered machinery (watermills).  The Industrial Revolution in the 20th Century gave birth to innovations in drilling, mineral processing and safety measures that transformed the mining sector. Recently, the application of autonomous systems has been steadily increasing in the mining industry.

Rise of Automation in Mining

Automated mining methods refer to the use of advanced technologies and machinery to perform mining operations with minimal human intervention. These methods leverage various technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, sensors, and automation systems to increase efficiency, improve safety, and reduce environmental impact in mining activities. They include:

Automated drilling and blasting – use advanced equipment with sensors and GPS technology to drill holes for explosives, optimising drilling patterns and reducing energy consumption.

Autonomous drilling equipment

Autonomous drilling equipment. Image Credit: sherifff/Shutterstock.com

Automated drilling and blasting – use advanced equipment with sensors and GPS technology to drill holes for explosives, optimising drilling patterns and reducing energy consumption.

Autonomous haulage systems – use self-driving trucks and transport vehicles to navigate mining sites, reducing transport time and reducing human error.

Autonomous Haulage trucks. Adapted from globalroadtechnology.com

Remote operation centers – enable operators to remotely control and monitor mining equipment, enhancing operational efficiency.

Automated sorting and processing systems – use sensors, cameras, and AI algorithms to identify and separate valuable ore from waste material, improving efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Robotic mining systems – use advanced sensors and cameras to navigate complex terrains and perform tasks.


Predictive maintenance techniques – use Internet on Things (IoT) sensors and data analytics to monitor equipment conditions in real time, minimizing downtime and operational costs. They are also used to predict equipment failures improving the overall efficiency of machinery


Although these unconventional systems have tantalizing benefits to investors and site managers, they come with hefty initial capital expenditure as they cost millions of dollars to design, fabricate and install.

The installation of these systems also leads to worker displacement. Regardless of the potential social benefits of retraining displaced workers for other employment, the worker whose job has been taken over by a machine will experience depression and emotional stress.

As compared to manual systems, they require a high level of maintenance and have low flexibility in the possible products.

There is also the lingering thought that automation technology will ultimately subjugate rather than serve mankind; that human error in the management of technology will somehow endanger civilization, and that society will become dependent on automation for its economic well-being.

Application in Projects

Several notable projects around the world have showcased innovative use of technology in mining, revolutionizing the industry and setting new standards for efficiency, safety, and sustainability. Here are a few examples:

  1. Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future (Australia) It has been a pioneer in implementing automation and autonomous technologies in mining. They have deployed a fleet of autonomous trucks, drills, and trains, controlled remotely from their operations center in Perth. This project has significantly increased productivity while enhancing safety and environmental sustainability of Rio Tinto

    An Automated water truck in Rio Tinto’s mine. Image Credit: riotinto.com

  2. Barrick Gold’s Cortez Mine (United States) The Cortez mine implemented an innovative solution called the Underground Mine Management System. This system uses real-time data analytics and predictive algorithms to optimize underground mining operations. It enables efficient drilling and blasting, leading to higher ore recovery rates and reduced operational costs.Figure 5: An Automated water truck in Rio Tinto’s mine. Image Credit: riotinto.com
  3. Kevitsa Mine’s Remote Operating Center (Finland)  Kevitsa Mining, located in northern Finland, operates a Remote Operating Center (ROC) where operators control drilling and loading equipment remotely using cameras and sensors. The ROC optimizes production and reduces fuel consumption by enabling precise control of machinery.
  4. Samarco’s AHS Implementation (Brazil) Samarco, a Brazilian mining company, implemented Autonomous Haulage Systems (AHS) in their iron ore mines. By deploying a fleet of autonomous trucks, they achieved higher productivity, reduced operational costs, and improved safety. This project is a testament to the potential of autonomous technology in optimizing large-scale mining operations.

Author: William Ngunjiri

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