22 October 2008
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Joy, CSIRO sign global longwall automation deal

JOY Mining Machinery has made history as the first original equipment manufacturer to sign an agreement to take CSIRO’s longwall automation system commercial.

After the signing: (L-R) CSIRO's Tim McLennan and Mike McWilliams, Joy's Mark Finlay and Graeme Gardiner.
CSIRO Exploration & Mining chief Dr Mike McWilliams (left), and Joy Australasia managing director Mark Finlay.
CSIRO Exploration & Mining chief Dr Mike McWilliams and Joy Australasia managing director Mark Finlay signed the worldwide non-exclusive licence for LASC (Longwall Automation Steering Committee) yesterday at the Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies in Brisbane yesterday.

The deal is expected to be the first of several, with CSIRO anticipating other Australian and overseas longwall equipment manufacturers to follow shortly.

Wednesday’s commercialisation deal is the culmination of many years of hard work by CSIRO, industry and manufacturers, which developed LASC through research mainly funded by the industry-financed Australian Coal Association Research Program.

“This is the first of a number of non-exclusive licence agreements for CSIRO’s longwall automation technology,” ACARP executive director Mark Bennetts said.

“As the new technology is incorporated into mines, it will improve productivity and provide a safer working environment. For ACARP, it is an ideal outcome.”

The principal components of the LASC automation system include face alignment, horizon control, communications and operator interface, and information systems.

Finlay said upon signing the deal that Joy was delighted to gain access to CSIRO’s technology.

“It will enhance our existing longwall mining solutions and contribute towards optimising longwall equipment performance in changing seam conditions,” he said.

Under the agreement CSIRO will receive fees and royalty payments which will enable it to recoup some of its investment in the project and to fund future research.

For CSIRO principal research engineer David Hainsworth, LASC has achieved the original goals of improving productivity and moving people away from a hazardous working environment.

“Industry reaps the benefit of this. Industry will receive a new generation of mining equipment that is smarter than before and that should give productivity and safety dividends. There is no risk for them anymore – they are buying it as a commercial product,” Hainsworth told International Longwall News.

He said CSIRO had been working with Joy for some time to make sure the OEM’s equipment was compatible with LASC, but today’s agreement put the “official stamp on the interaction”.

CSIRO will work directly with Joy to support the OEM, but Joy will interface with the mining customer.

“We believed a risk for transferring our technology was handing over the technology too early to our commercialisation partners so they wouldn’t fully understand how the technology works and how to support it,” Hainsworth said.

“So as part of the licensing agreement we have committed to providing support to Joy for two installations or five years – or whichever comes first.”

As previously reported on ILN, the first Joy customer to receive the commercial LASC system will be Anglo Coal’s Moranbah North mine which has ordered a face with 151 1750-tonne, 2m-wide Joy roof supports and two Joy 7LS6 shearers. Ramp-up is expected in the second quarter of 2009.

The licensing agreement includes training, instruction on how the system works and incorporation of the technology into the OEM’s products.

“There are also some hardware elements which are necessary, like the inertial navigation system,” Hainsworth said.

“We have manufactured these boxes in low volume for all the OEMs licensing the technology so they can implement it into their equipment from day one.”

He said the agreement was designed to be self-sustaining from the OEMs to the industry.

Initially, marketing of the technology will be concentrated on the US and Australia, but CSIRO said it was also exploring options in South Africa and Europe.

Part of that exploration is looking at a number of other sensor manufacturers as LASC’s current high-grade inertial sensor is manufactured in the US, and as it is military grade it has some export restrictions.

While today’s announcement marks the official commercialisation of LASC, pre-commercial automation systems have already been proven and found success at Xstrata's Beltana and BMA's Broadmeadow longwall mines, which are now using the technology full-time. Anglo Coal’s Grasstree mine is also using the technology in part.

These mines have been taking advantage of LASC’s components, which include the Information System that enables 3D visualisation of the longwall environment and equipment to be remotely accessed in real time from the minesite’s local area network or via a secure VPN connection on the internet.

The Shearer Position Measurement System (SPMS) is a modular commercial production standard hardware solution.

To address horizon control issues CSIRO has developed a compact hardware solution for visual face monitoring, an approved enclosure for a thermal infra-red camera, and software for providing horizon control through faulted conditions.

While LASC goes commercial, CSIRO will not be resting on its laurels with further improvements flagged for the technology.

In an interview with ILN in July this year, CSIRO principal research engineer David Reid said CSIRO planned to work closely with the major longwall OEMs to ensure the technology is introduced to the market as efficiently as possible and to make certain the system immediately delivers its full potential to the market.

To further improve the technology, CSIRO will conduct ongoing field trial work with the creep/retreat and horizon control components of the LASC technology so it can be rolled out on a commercial basis.

Horizon control sensors, such as marker band detection and thermal infra-red sensing prototypes, will be developed and tested by CSIRO over the next two years.

The research team will also test prototypes of more general sensors for face monitoring, including shield convergence, void detection and collision avoidance.

CSIRO will also continue with new technology developments in the areas of subsurface radar, optimised inertial navigation and machine localisation, which will all have direct linkage into longwall and other mine automation systems.

For inertial navigation, CSIRO plans to optimise the high-end navigation technology for underground mining applications.

The team is also moving ahead with new and exciting radar technologies for subsurface sensing, machine localisation and motion measurement.

Click here to read the rest of today's news stories.


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