In China’s Shandong province lies Laizhou, a city known as the “Golden City” due to its rich gold reserves. However, like many other mines worldwide, the gold mining industry in Laizhou was plagued by workplace safety risks. To address this issue, local mines are undergoing a digital and smart makeover by embracing cutting-edge automation and unmanned solutions.
Thanks to advanced telecommunications and artificial intelligence technologies, companies like Shandong Gold Group Co Ltd, which owns two mines in Laizhou, are embracing digital intelligence to fulfill their needs and represent the general trend in industry development. These digital solutions include automated guided vehicles, industrial robots, and remote controls enabled by a WiFi-6 network provided by Huawei, a technology company committed to building world-class smart mining solutions.
In the Jiaojia Gold Mine, a forklift is remotely controlled from an office on the surface, about 77 meters above the vehicle. Meanwhile, in the nearby Sanshandao Gold Mine, many young miners are remotely crushing ore, only needing to operate buttons and handles to command the mechanical arms hundreds of meters underground to perform their tasks.
These operations free workers from dangerous environments and offer a glimpse into the evolution of China’s sprawling mining sector. Chen Wenfeng, vice-president of sales and marketing in the Huawei Mining Business Unit, said, “In the next three to five years, digital technologies will see wider use in the mining industrial links such as transportation and mineral processing.”
Governments in China are also rolling out favorable policies to promote the use of digital technologies to ensure safety in mines. The Ministry of Science and Technology, for instance, unveiled a notice on advancing the industrial use of AI technologies with smart mining highlighted as a typical application scenario.
In mines across China, companies are leveraging digital technologies to boost security and safety. Shandong Gold Group has established a three-dimensional visualized comprehensive management and control platform, which has realized the application of visualized intelligent management and control of ore flow in the whole process, unmanned driving of electric locomotives, and the remote-controlling of rock drilling jumbos. As a result, the production efficiency of Sanshandao Gold Mine has increased by more than 20 percent year-on-year and the annual direct economic benefits have reached more than 80 million yuan ($11.6 million), according to the mine.
Intelligent technology has helped Shandong Gold Group reduce the number of underground operators by more than 3,046, saving 460 million yuan in total labor costs. But challenges still exist, such as environmental challenges like high temperatures, high humidity, and low oxygen, as well as uncertainties such as rock bursts and water gushing. The pressing need to leverage digital technologies to boost security and safety will continue to drive innovation in the mining industry, providing valuable lessons for mines around the world.