By Stephen Douglas, projects manager with automation responsibilities, Eickhoff

The coal industry in Australia has recently experienced a significant drop in coal prices and the slump within the global market has seen a reduction in the demand for coal, resulting in significant cost cutting exercises. In addition, Australia has a shortage in skilled labor with the current workforce described as aging, with large numbers of employees to retire. These factors impose significant pressure to the industry for the near future. Although there are many areas of consideration required in addressing these uncertainties, one which has started to have a significant impact to longwall production in Australia is automation. Not only does automation provide a safe method to produce longwall coal, but it has already been demonstrated to provide consistency in production. Some of these areas relate to cutting cycles, dilution control, controlling methane levels during production, and improving the availability of key longwall equipment.

This presentation will take a closer look to the driving factors of Australia longwall automation. When comparing to other industries, it is clear that longwall automation is still evolving. In Australia, pressure is applied to the OEM in providing the technologies and solutions with some of these relating to state based automation, radar collision avoidance between the shearer and shields, inter‐action between the shearer and other longwall components and online video streaming. Certain fundamentals are required to successfully implement these technologies, and even more importantly the continuous utilization of these technologies AFTER implementation and this will be outlined by providing more specific details of the journey in getting there.

The purpose of this presentation is to stimulate the imagination of the audience by referring to experiences encountered from an OEM perspective on the journey to apply automation and outline the successes as well as challenges encountered to date. It is the small ideas and the intermediate steps which will take longwall automation to the next level, and an inside view could result into more action globally.

The key equipment in the longwall system when referring to automation is the shearer loader, due to its high level of mobility required during production cycles, and reference in particular will be made to the shearer and its integration with other longwall equipment during automated operations.

The future of longwall mining will significantly be impacted by automation, but more application is required to provide perspective in achieving positive outcomes. This can be achieved if there are more longwalls automated and the application of automation increased.