RoboMiner® and Mine-iTruck®: Four keys for Innovation
We spoke with Miguel Ángel Peña, Vice-president of Innovation and Start-ups of Enaex, and with part of the team responsible for RoboMiner® and Mine-iTruck® to know a little more about the development process of these innovative solutions for mining.
The innovation was the protagonist at the last version of Expomin, fair in which we not only showed our telecommand solutions of RoboMiner® and Mine-iTruck®, but we also made an interesting presentation together with our strategic partners on robotic matters, during which we shared our vision and inspiration for the development of these solutions and highlighted the importance of innovation for the mining industry.
The introduction of equipment such as RoboMiner® and Mine-iTruck® is only the commencement of a new form of seeing and facing mining. This new concept is, for now, a niche solution, but whose development advances with the aim of improving people´s quality of life through technology, ensuring the safety of workers that, in turn, makes it viable to exploit zones and resources that are not accessible today, explains Miguel Angel Peña, Vice-president of Innovation and Start-ups of Enaex.
“What we have today is going to provide a concrete solution to a problem, being risk zones and environmental challenges”, he comments. To achieve this, it was necessary to work for years, and four elements resulted fundamental to achieve success.
The client in the centre
What we saw in Expomin is the result of years of research that started with a fundamental proposal: the need to be a company centred on the client. “The client says to you “I have this problem”, then you start to analyze what is the magnitude of that problem and how you can solve that problem” says Miguel Ángel.
And what was the proposed challenge? How can one safely operate in mining zones that present risky conditions. “Today all our clients wish to take employees out of risky zones and, in turn, they wish to generate more resources and many of those resources are in zones that are not permitted to exploit by the authority, because it generates a risk for human life”, he indicates.
“And in that process of listening to the client, we pass to another stage, that of questioning how we add more value, how we better resolve their problems in a more timely manner. And from there started the innovation, recalls Miguel Ángel. From there, the tele-operated solutions arose.
“What we want with these solutions is to put people in a more elevated position as regards the taking of decisions, and replace those tasks that are very dangerous, in the manner that they can be carried out through team work”, complements Marco Ruis, project manager of the telecommand solution of Enaex. “That is very much in line with what Enaex wants, that is to contribute to people´s quality of life”.
“This is very relevant because having a goal, a challenging dream, is what makes things happen” emphasizes Miguel Ángel, who indicates that when the goals are not very motivating, people do not get on board with the projects.
“This goal was challenging for us, all the Enaex group is behind this objective. And also our strategic partners. We are talking of SRI International, that competes with all research centres; we are talking about ASI Robots, that competes with all that is autonomous vehicles. They see that the dream that we put in front of them is very challenging and very relevant for the company”.
“Enaex had this big vision, this challenge that had been identified and they said to us, we have to find a way to take away the human operators that provide rock fragmentation services in dangerous zones” says Zak Weiler, Business Development Manager of SRI International.
“This is definitively one of the most interesting projects that we are carrying out today and, at a commercial level, it is our largest project at this time, and we are very enthusiastic to see it advance”, he added.
RoboMiner® and Mine-iTruck® form part of an integrated system; therefore, what is most relevant is that they can converse between each other”, emphasized Miguel Ángel. “They have to speak together to be able to properly position all the elements of fragmentation in a well, the same as a truck driver or a floor assistant would do in a traditional case. They have to look at each other and dialogue. RoboMiner® and Mine-iTruck® are going to dialogue, with information that they each give to each other, with positioning, and that is a tremendous asset.”
The integration between the equipment is key. “A piece of equipment that does not know how to interact in a float is no use, no matter how good it is”. This, because the projection towards the future is that Enaex equipment is going to perform in an ecosystem of telecommanded equipment that will integrate functions of all types, including drilling, blades and rock fragmentation, among other. “What we are doing today is to visualize that complex process, in a way to be able to make equipment that is compatible with that type of operation”, adds Marco Ruiz.
“Today´s challenge is to be capable of having various vehicles working together in a manner to complete a specific task and being managed from an administration office located in another place. That is what we are trying to achieve with Mine-iTruck®, complements Cory Rowe, product manager of ASI Robots, strategic partners in the development of Mine-iTruck®
“What we have been doing for some time is exploring the need, to then be able to see what exists in the market as regards technologies, and once we know the technologies and we blend them with the need, we find the solution”, explains Miguel Ángel. In this case, in addition to international partners, we have worked with a cousin company of the SK Group that has been key in the integration process. That company is Godelius.
In this way, we have worked together with distinct strategic partners that, although do not specialize themselves in mining, have technological opportunities that may be implemented in the Enaex project.
“We have identified all the pieces that we need to make the puzzle. That is a really important role that we have, as integrators of this technology, since we already have the know-how of rock fragmentation” indicates Marcos.
Through this integrating role, we have achieved to incorporate technologies that originally were not created for mining, but without a doubt respond to new needs. This can be clearly appreciated in the case of RoboMiner®.
“The manual dexterity and fine movements is one of the technological challenges that are seen everywhere. Now we invest a lot of time in pouring the know-how of our operators into the robot development equipment, so that we can understand the movement mechanics in manipulating the elements”, says Marco. “To make packets of functions and automate them is one of the things that we are achieving with this equipment.”
“What is really fascinating and very unique about the RoboMiner® system is that it is capable of making a manipulation with great dexterity in a telecommanded form”, complements Zak. “The operation of taking a cable to prepare a blast requires much skill, and it is even difficult for a human; then to have a robotic system that is capable of doing that has been a challenge with regard to which we have significantly advanced and we are very proud of what we have achieved together”.