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Military 'black box' behind longwall mining revolution

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An innovative CSIRO mining project that not only improves safety in coal mines but also increases productivity, has been awarded one of the most prestigious accolades in the industry.

A military-grade internal guidance system is at the heart of the new system that has automated a number of the processes involved in operating a longwall.

Previously, miners had to stop twice a day to realign the longwall shearer using string lines. Automating the process cuts downtime and improves productivity by thousands of tonnes a day.

With coal worth $100 a tonne, this is a major development for the mining industry. It also helps remove miners from hazardous and dusty areas.

That is why the project has now been recognised by the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) with the ACARP Award for Research Excellence.

The awards are made every two years to research teams that address a significant coal industry problem. In presenting the Award, ACARP noted that, "the team succeeded in automating the fly cut, remotely monitoring the cutting sequence and advancing the maintenance practices on the wall.

"It is now possible to sit in the mine office on the surface and watch the cutting and associated operating parameters in real time as a direct consequence of this research project.

"The research team has invested technical excellence, persistence and sheer hard work to overcome the many obstacles before them."

The innovation is continuing, with a number of the advances currently being commercialised.

The team is also working to pick up marker bands in the coal seam that will enable them to continue to advance the automation of a longwall through automated horizon control.

The CSIRO team is based at Brisbane's Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies and includes CSIRO mining manager Mick Kelly, David Hainsworth, and David Reid.

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