RPT-FEATURE-Miners take 'rail-veyors' and robots to automated future

Sun Oct 28, 2012 4:50pm EDT
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* 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.   Continued...