Mining Contract: Remote Blast Hole Location Detection for Powder Loader Automation

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Contract # 75D30121C12010
Start Date 9/1/2021
End Date 8/31/2023
Research Concept

A typical working face of an underground metal/nonmetal mine is 45-50 feet wide and 25-30 feet high. Holes are drilled into the face at specific locations to be subsequently loaded with blasting caps and an explosive agent such as Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil (ANFO). The holes are typically about two inches in diameter and drilled at various angles and depths based on a prescribed blasting plan. The machine used to load the caps and explosive agent is called a powder loader. Powder loaders are essential machines in drill and blast mining operations.

The operators of these machines don protective equipment and work on an elevated platform at the end of a long boom handling the explosive agents. While on this elevated platform, they are subjected to higher concentrations of diesel particulate emissions. Although advances in diesel engine technology have been effective in reducing particulate emissions, powder loader operators continue to be exposed to high levels of diesel particulate. Also, because this is an underground environment, the potential of loose rock falling from the mine roof and striking the operator is always a risk. There are two ways to mitigate harmful exposure: either remove the contaminants from the operator's work area or provide the operator with a means of completing the task remotely, thereby removing the operator from the exposed area.

Contract Status & Impact

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The goal of this contract research is to remove the drill crew from respirable hazards and to prevent the crew from being hit by falling rock. Technologies that can be used remotely such as laser imaging, detection, and ranging (LiDAR) and stereo (3D) vision have been and continue to be developed in other markets, primarily in the automotive industry. For autonomous vehicle operation, LiDAR and vision systems transform the environment into a mathematical representation with which the control system can use to make decisions. Clusters of points can be analyzed in real-time to determine what the clusters represent.

Machine vision is commonly used in industrial manufacturing facilities, and in relation to this contract research, machine vision could be used to locate parts or specific part features and provide a machine or robot with the part's or feature’s location. At J.H. Fletcher & Co., LiDAR scanners are used to provide topographical information of the mining environment. This information helps to determine the location of blast holes relative to the topology and allows the machine to determine the drill depth of each hole prior to drilling. This allows the machine to maximize the drill depth while simultaneously creating a “back plane” that coincides with the extent of each hole.

Ultimately, further development and application of this technology may allow for automating drill crew activities in mines.

Page last reviewed: November 9, 2023
Page last updated: February 28, 2023