ZÜBLIN International GmbH Chile SpA is active in South America’s copper mines, which are the largest in the world. The wholly owned STRABAG subsidiary drives, for instance, tunnels underground in the Andes for international mining companies, where the large machines are then moved and ores are mined. In a project launched in 2019, remote-controlled machines were used for tunnelling for the first time.
The “drivers“ of the heavy-duty machines sit relaxed and protected in a container outside the mines. At a safe distance, they guide the huge trucks and drilling vehicles through the stone tunnels by joystick, driving the equipment into the rock – and follow the progress on large screens. The scenery is almost bizarre: the workers sit highly concentrated in large armchairs with joystick consoles – as if they were playing a computer game.
This scenario is made possible by the innovative Remote Machinery Control: This system, consisting of a local fibre optic, Ethernet and WLAN network, allows the transmission of movement commands as well as camera and sensor data of each machine in real time between the above-ground control station and the underground operation. The remote-controlled and remote-monitored operating service was set up primarily in earthquake-prone areas with a high risk of rockfalls in order to increase safety for the operators. At the same time, the procedure also increases productivity in tunnelling, as underground excavation and wedging work is now possible in areas that were previously closed to people after a blasting operation or due to seismic hazard.
More safety. Higher productivity.
Luis Díaz, STRABAG and ZÜBLIN Safety, Occupational Health and Environment Manager in the Chilean mining area, explains: ‘Rockfalls are the main cause of accidents in Chilean underground mining. Remote Control allows us to keep workers away from these high-risk areas.’
Douglas Pizarro, contract administrator for the Mining Tunnels client, adds: ‘The biggest challenge is to adapt to and develop remote control systems.’ ZÜBLIN combines their know-how with that of their project partners: the Canadian NLT Digital, a market leader for underground WLAN networks, and the Swedish mining equipment manufacturer Epiroc.
ZÜBLIN has numerous pieces of remote-controlled equipment that are used not only for removing rock, but also for photography, 3-D modelling and for identifying geological faults in the field.
Remote control of heavy equipment is not yet widespread in the mining industry. Thanks to new innovative technologies, ZÜBLIN has been able to assume a pioneering position worldwide in the successful use of these remote-controlled systems. Much of the potential of this forward-looking resource is geared towards improving the working and safety conditions of mining personnel.