Autonomous Underground Mining Project

Project Team

Many thanks to past project members: Mark Ollis and Diana LaBelle.

Project Description

[12CM continuous mining machine] [12CM continuous mining machine]

The objective of the Automated Underground Mining project is to develop and commercialize robotics technologies for semi-automating continuous mining machines and other underground mining equipment. The primary benefit of this work is economic, by improving the productivity of each mining machine (in terms of tons of coal mined per shift) and by allowing the operator to run the machine from a safe distance, thus reducing associated costs for worker exposure, health benefits, and liability.

Due to the cramped nature of the mining environment and the airborne dust particles, operators are unable to see well enough to control the equipment accurately. Thus, operators run the equipment more slowly than desired and frequently stop to examine the results of their actions. The result is less coal mined per shift. Furthermore, inaccurate cutting can require that entries be re-cut, or that additional roof bolts be inserted, resulting in lost time and added material costs. Robotic sensors can give the operator the "eyes" needed to accurately and smoothly sequence the machine from one operation to the next.

For example, there are 830 active Joy continuous miners in the U.S. Typically, each one operates two shifts a day and produces 2200 tons of coal per shift on average. At the present coal price of $20 per ton, a 10% increase in productivity would result in $8,800 of additional revenue per machine per day. That translates into $7.3M of additional revenue per day for the U.S. industry.

In addition to the productivity improvements, safety will improve by allowing the operator to run the machine from a greater distance, reducing the chances he/she will be injured by roof fall, fire, or inadvertent machine operation.

For three years, NASA, CMU, and Joy Mining Machinery have teamed together to develop technologies required to automate a broad range of underground mining operations. To date, we have created two marketable products:

Project Status

NASA, CMU, and Joy Mining Machinery have developed beta products for use in underground coal mines, but testing has been limited. Above ground, the team has demonstrated the ability to measure sump depth with no more error than 2% of distance travelled. The team has demonstrated the ability to track the laser reference to within 1 cm later offset and 1/3 degree heading error.

In early 2000, the team tested the products at Cumberland mine in Pennsylvania and Rend Lake mine in Illinois. Results are encouraging. We are commencing a DoE-FETC funded program to assess, quantify, and optimize performance gains of these products through extensive underground testing. This program adds DoE INEEL and CONSOL, Inc. to the team.

In the coming year, we expect to mature the two beta products into commercial products. The picture below shows the products mounted on a production continuous mining machine in Cumberland mine.

[Testing underground in Cumberland mine]

For more information, contact:

Tony Stentz
National Robotics Engineering Consortium
#10 Fortieth Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
Ph: (412) 268-8155
Fax: (412) 681-6961

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