By Adam Zamora , automation specialist, Westmoreland Coal, and Jack D. Trackemas, branch chief, ground control branch, NIOSH

The need to provide enhanced safety and working environments for miners, as well as improved efficiency during mining has provided a compelling opportunity for mines to consider automation. In 2015, 40 longwall mines provided nearly sixty percent of the U.S. coal production from underground mining methods. The operation of most longwall faces are repetitive and cyclic providing an ideal situation for the use of partial or even full automation. Over the past several decades, several attempts have occurred to introduce various degrees of automation to longwall faces with limited success. Currently, most aspects of a longwall mining can now be monitored with reasonable reliability. The Westmoreland Coal Co.’s San Juan mine, has had success with operating an automated longwall face utilizing this new technology.