George Fisher Mine digging new loaders as part of automation project

Some people call them muckers, to others they are known as boggers, while at GFM they call them loaders − but whatever their moniker, they play an extremely important part in modern underground mining.

Mount Isa Mines' George Fisher Mine welcomed three new underground loaders in June this year as part of a transformative automation project designed to improve safety, and increase efficiency and productivity at the mine.

Principal Project Engineer − Automation, Nick Fryer says the Loader Automation project will see a total of six new Sandvik LH517i's come online at the mine over the next eight months, which will replace the existing units as they reach their end of life.

"Three loaders have been introduced this year and a further three Sandvik loaders will be added to the fleet next year," says Nick.

This project follows, and builds on, other automation technology involving loaders that has operated at the mine for some time.

"Before now we've used a tele-remote / co-pilot hybrid system with operators based predominately underground (with some on the surface) actively controlling the machines to muck material from our open stopes."

The new AutoMine® Multi-Lite system means moving towards greater automation, with operating personnel based on the surface and only required to muck a bucket and then rely on the system to tram, tip and return ready for another bucket.

"Essentially, this reduces the risk of equipment damage through its advanced navigation system, and allows the operator to control multiple machines across different production areas from the surface," says Nick.

The AutoMine® Multi-Lite system also simplifies the technology set-up and relies on a single server and network, while incorporating real-time integrated machine diagnostics.

Nick says the team at George Fisher Mine are looking forward to seeing what gains in productivity and efficiency the AutoMine® system will bring to their operations.

"The response from the first round of operators trained has been extremely encouraging and in a trial earlier this year, we saw a significant increase in the hours our machines could operate in full automation," says Nick.

"With careful planning and scheduling we saw a 40% increase in productivity in some of our mining areas and we hope to emulate this more consistently with the new system over the next six months."

Nick says the new strategy will enable us to stay competitive in a continuously evolving industry. This strategic shift will position the business in a safer, stronger and more sustainable position going forward.