Anglo American approves $226m deal for ‘most advanced’ smart mine in Australia
British mining company Anglo American is to expand its coal operations in Australia with “one of the most technologically advanced underground mines in the world”, it has announced.
The $226 million expansion of its underground hard coking coal mine in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, near Middlemount, has been approved by the board at Anglo American. The Aquila expansion will extend the life of underground operations at its Capcoal Open Cut Mine complex, which comprises the Capcoal Open Cut Mine, the existing underground Grasstree operations, plus associated infrastructure, by six years, to 2028.
Work on the smart mine expansion starts in September, and goes alongside digital transformation of the existing site to optimise capacity and bring higher levels of automation and intelligence to operations. Production from the new Aquila site will start in early 2022, with the Grasstree workforce migrating to Aquila as production starts.
Anglo American has been rolling out its FutureSmart Mining initiative, around ‘pervasive sensing’, which brings sensor and analytics technologies into the mine arena, to address the sector’s major operational and sustainability challenges.
The company has worked with UK based technology company Silixa to deploy distributed sensing technology, which uses a single fibre optic circuit, several kilometres long, enabling continuous real-time metering of mine water flows across multiple points throughout a mine area, which can stretch to the size of Lower Manhattan.
Tyler Mitchelson, chief executive at Anglo American’s metallurgical coal business, said: “Anglo American has been at the forefront of embracing innovation to drive the next level of mine safety and performance, and our Aquila mine will be developed as one of the most technologically advanced underground mines in the world.
“We will pursue remote operation of the Aquila longwall, ensuring our people are removed from harm’s way, and the continued digitisation of our operations, using new technologies such as our Australian-first intrinsically safe underground electronic tablets. The accelerating pace of technological innovation, particularly in the digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence areas, are opening up opportunities for the mining sector to be safer, more productive and sustainable.”
Meanwhile, Anglo American is deploying tablet devices at its Moranbah North Mine, another underground metallurgical coal mine. They are the first tablets certified for the mining sector in Australia. Anglo American said it is moving towards “rapid deployment” across all its underground sites its Grasstree and Aquila mines.
The introduction of underground tablets follows “significant” work on automating longwall operations and digitising the company’s mines. Anglo American recently completed its first pilot longwall shear from an above-ground remote operating centre at Grosvenor Mine.
The tablets capture and share real-time production, safety and environmental monitoring data with operators. The idea is to make critical information available to key personnel, and provide direct access to the company’s safety health management system. They can also be used for Skype-based video communications with staff at surface level to help with trouble-shooting and in case of emergencies.
“Any delays or challenges can be reported and addressed on-the-spot to reduce lost production time, instead of relying on traditional communication methods such as phone calls, underground travel or hard copy reports being submitted and reviewed at the end of a 12-hour shift,” said Mitchelson.
“We have taken a major step in digitising our operations… Our new tablets are already enabling improved communication and information sharing underground, which will lead to safer, more productive mining.
Around 400 statutory reports and 2,500 maintenance work orders are generated each week at the Moranbah North Mine. Anglo American wants its mining operations to be paperless within two years. The new tablet devices were developed with manufacturer Bartec, and certified by the Queensland Government’s Safety in Mines Testing and Research Station (SIMTARS).
Glen Britton, executive head of underground operations in Australia, said: “Over the last five years, we have invested considerable resources in the development of this technology, to ensure the product was fit-for-purpose. We sought out a manufacturing partner to help create a new technical solution for managing our data, undertook an extensive certification process and improved underground wi-fi capabilities at the mine.”
Aquila will have a total average annual saleable production of around five million tonnes of hard coking coal, used in steel production for critical building and infrastructure. The Capcoal Open Cut Mine complex is a joint venture between Anglo American and Mitsui & Co, which hold 70 per cent and 30 per cent shares, respectively.
Mitchelson said: “As the largest underground coal miner in Australia, we are leveraging the pioneering work already under way at our existing mine sites and scaling the development of new technologies in our operations. We are proud to be the first to introduce this technology to the industry and believe it’s where the industry must move to be sustainable into the future.”