FEATURE-Miners take 'rail-veyors' and robots to automated future
* New, automated mining equipment cuts costs, boosts safety
* Companies eye driverless vehicles, new digging methods
* Automation essential as miners dig deeper, in remote areas
* Unions make peace with automation: 'good for productivity'
By Julie Gordon
SUDBURY, Ontario, Oct 28 (Reuters) - In an office trailer parked outside a mine shaft in northern Ontario, operator Carolyn St-Jean leans back in her chair and monitors a machine loading nickel-rich ore into rail cars deep underground.
Once filled, the automated train will snake through a series of narrow tunnels, emerge from a rocky outcropping, then loop past St-Jean's window and dump its payload for sorting.
Vale SA, the Brazilian company that owns the mine near this nickel-rich Canadian town, has spent nearly $50 million in two years to install and test the "rail-veyor." The company believes the transport system will revolutionize how it builds and extracts new mineral deposits.
The equipment is made locally by Rail-Veyor Technologies Global Inc. It is one of many mining technologies that developers hope will allow future production to be run almost entirely by people safely above ground. Continued...