ThoroughTec helps miners tap into technology
Extract from International Mining – December 2020
…ThoroughTec Simulation, which is particularly strong in the underground space. The company reminded IM that full autonomy aside, there is also a vast community of miners who are exploiting myriad less invasive and cheaper, but no less revolutionary technologies to empower their human operators.
GM North America of ThoroughTec, Andre Mendes comments: “Digitisation of machinery provides ever greater insight into the health of equipment, exposing insidious, hidden faults and creeping wear to allow pre-emptive intervention and mitigation of damage. Advanced dispatch systems track fleet movements and interactions, automatically spotting hazards and inefficiencies to suggest route optimisations on the fly. At the same time, a host of situational awareness and accident prevention sensors constantly scan vehicle surroundings, warning operators of impending danger and if necessary, assuming control to prevent collisions. We have responded to the increasing prevalence of these systems by replicating them and catering for their simulation on all of our new build sims. Furthermore, we have developed specialised E-learning modules to help operators understand and unlock the potential of these powerful new technologies.”
Over and above these transformative systems, the underground community has seen an exponential increase in the deployment of remote operation and task automation technologies. These systems are designed to limit operator exposure to high risk areas and reduce fatigue while boosting accuracy and consistency of performance, in a notoriously challenging domain.
“Ultimately, highly-digitised and largely automated mining equipment will require fewer and fewer human operators to control and oversee mining operations. However, those operators will require an ever-greater set of diverse and intensely specialised skills to effectively deploy their increasingly complex and costly machines. The operator of today, must not only be able to drive, dig or drill as well as his forebears, but he must now do so while taking cues from onboard awareness and assistance systems and interacting with advanced digital dispatch or automation systems.”
In the drilling domain, this is taken even further, so far in fact that the man in the machine is less operator and more supervisor of the digital systems managing drill setup and operation. “Sandvik’s DD422i drill rig is a prime example, it features a highly advanced automated drilling system. The correct programming of the system and subsequent monitoring of operations is imperative to achieving its potential. In the simulator, operators can perfect the complex setup process and then exercise their monitoring and oversight of the automated system, learning when and how to intervene in response to changing conditions or system failures.”
Simulation, such as that offered by ThoroughTec’s CYBERMINE Full-Mission Simulators, is a part of the new digital world and as such naturally aligned with the development of holistic proficiency in this multidimensional environment. “It is in fact a quirk of our times that the more digitised equipment becomes and the further the operator moves away from the pit, the more the real and virtual worlds converge. As a case in point, the experience of a trainee operator in one of ThoroughTec’s Underground LHD Tele-remote simulators is virtually indistinguishable from the realworld experience.”
The company says 5th generation simulators such as its CYBERMINE range, go further to present a unique bridging opportunity for tele-remote training. By virtue of their true-to-life graphics, incredible sound effects and most importantly, full 6 degree of freedom motion feedback, a new tele-remote operator can begin his training with all of his senses at their disposal. “Bright, expansive visuals, 3D surround sound and the ‘machine’ moving beneath them as if they were sitting in it. As competence builds, these can slowly be removed, one after the other, until all they are left with is the picture-box view on his TV monitors.”
Mendes said during the COVID-19 pandemic, as mines have largely remained operational, training has continued, albeit under a new set of hygiene-related rules and procedures. “Classroom training has returned either in more socially distanced form or increasingly via video sessions and online E-learning. For practical training, simulators continue to be the preferred choice, and it has been a very convenient feature of our CYBERMINE 5th Gen simulators that they can be controlled remotely by an instructor, leaving the student alone in the system, where he can safely use our best in class, contactless head tracking system without the need to share devices with other students.”
This heightened demand for the hosting and management of digital training content has also coincided with the release of ThoroughTec’s WX Training Management System, a “first-of class platform for the holistic organisation and management of a mining operator training. Naturally our Full-Mission Simulators are at the heart of any such system, but we offer a suite of complimentary products, ranging from e-learning and interactive walk-around inspection systems to our WX Analytics, vehicle-mounted operator behaviour monitoring system. Critically, all of these products are produced in house and as such, are fully integrated into the WX eco-system to deliver (for the first time) a closed training-operations-improvement loop.”