New era of automation

By |  February 8, 2017

Next month at ConExpo-Con/Agg 2017 in Las Vegas, attendees will have an opportunity to view an operational 3-D printed excavator. For the past two years, a conglomerate of industry, government, academia and trade associations have been collaborating on the project, and it symbolizes some of the technological advances starting to affect the mining and aggregate industries.

A recent paper published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development details the effects such advancements may have on our industries. The work is titled “Mining a mirage? Reassessing the shared-value paradigm in light of the technological advances in the mining sector.” It focuses not on futuristic ideas, such as the mining of asteroids, but on concepts applicable in the near-to-medium term.

Some of these technologies include autonomous haul trucks and loaders; semi-autonomous crushers and rock breakers; automated drilling systems; global positioning systems (GPS); and autonomous equipment monitoring.

In regard to automated drilling systems, the report says, “One operator can monitor up to five machines from a remote monitoring station. The remote operator needs only an interface with the machine to tell in what order the drill pattern should be drilled.” This technology, the report claims, may greatly reduce the number of contractors involved in drilling and blasting.

The paper also notes that automated positioning systems such as GPS can manage and improve the safe operation of heavy equipment such as dozers, drills, excavators, loaders, scrapers, graders, soil compactors, off-road trucks and light vehicles. Some of that is already happening.

The report says that by using many different technologies for equipment monitoring, labor costs associated with preventive maintenance may also be reduced. Such technologies include everything from cameras and thermal imaging to self-aware machinery able to report its own progress.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development says that while it’s difficult to predict when these technologies will be more commonplace, “we are entering an era in which the availability of automation technology is accelerating rapidly.”

If you visit ConExpo-Con/Agg, be sure to check out the 3-D printed excavator at the event’s new Tech Experience exhibit for a taste of what’s to come.

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About the Author:

Darren Constantino is an editor of Pit & Quarry magazine. He can be reached at

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