CSIRO engineers have developed a new scanning device that can give a full panoramic view of an underground coal mine in real time. Called the ExScan, the device is set to revolutionise the underground mining industry.

As reported in ABC News by Lexy Hamilton-Smith, the device, could allow miners to manage longwall mining operations remotely and safely in a control centre above ground.

The information from the ExScan scanner is collected and re-mapped to a 3D model, which is dynamically updated. It is then transmitted using wi-fi and optic fibre from the coal face to the surface, some 300 to 400 metres above, giving operators a way of visualising exactly what the long wall face looks like even in a dusty environment, where there is a lot of vibration and darkness.

This type of ‘intelligent mining’ approach is being trialled by Glencore at its Oaky Creek mine site in Queensland, Australia.

As cited by the ABC, Glencore technology superintendent Lauris Hemming said the industry had been aiming for safe full automation for decades.

ExScan has undergone dozens of explosion tests as part of its certification, showing it can operate in the harsh underground environment.

When a full-scale system is set up, with 10,000 tonnes of fully automated equipment hundreds of metres underground, it could be considered one of the biggest robots in the world.

Five different mines in New South Wales and Queensland are now trialling the ExScan.

Mine operators in China, which has around 1500 longwall operations, as well as North America, Poland and Russia, have all shown interest in using the scanner to make mining safer.


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