Mining is an industry that thrives on information: where to find critical mineral resources, how to extract them, the precise location, size and orientation of tunnels and shafts, the position of support structures, the condition of equipment, the safety of the crew, and the efficiency of the entire process.
3D scanning is quickly changing how the mining industry approaches the task of information gathering. It’s opening the door to faster and more accurate data capture of mining sites above and below ground, as well as the infrastructure, processing systems, materials and equipment involved.
These measurement tools are not only faster than traditional surveying methods, they give mine operators access to more data than ever before. They can capture point clouds from large components, systems and entire mining environments using non-contact methods, allow mining companies to capture data from risky or difficult-to-access locations without putting a human operator in harm’s way.
In this blog, you’ll get an overview of how 3D scanning is being used in mining.
Overall, 3D scanning is transforming how the mining industry conducts site planning and design, equipment maintenance and inspection, stability analysis, mapping and surveying, and environmental monitoring. Let’s dig a little deeper into the applications.
As mentioned earlier, surveying is the most critical application of 3D scanning in mining. Creating precise maps of underground areas is one of the most challenging and complex types of surveying. With the proper equipment, mining companies can maintain a very high level of accuracy while dramatically simplifying and accelerating how this work is accomplished. By creating detailed maps and models of mining sites, 3D scanners help mining companies better understand the terrain and take appropriate measures with respect to both safety and efficiency. Specific applications include:
1. Shaft inspection
To ensure worker safety, mining laws commonly require that companies inspect mine shafts regularly. Every new 3D scan is then compared to a previous scan to detect potential issues, such as cracks in lining and misalignment of pipelines and other equipment, as well as to identify and call attention to any and all changes.
2. Shotcrete application
Shotcrete, or sprayed concrete, is projected at high speeds onto vertical or overhead surfaces to stabilize them. In these instances, it is very important to measure the thickness of the shotcrete as this indicates its strength. 3D scanning can help mining companies understand the characteristics of the surface in order to apply the correct amount of shotcrete, as well as measure the thickness accurately without requiring operators to take these measurements using destructive techniques like drilling.
3. Convergence analysis
Convergence analysis uses regular scans of underground mines to inspect the rock and document any changes. This helps mining companies understand rock behavior, identify potential problems like fractured rock or deformations in tunnels, and take action if conditions become unsafe. 3D scanning makes this process faster and more accurate.
4. Production progress mapping
Mining companies need to keep close tabs on the progress of the entire operation. 3D scanning helps collect data from various sites throughout the mine so that progress can be compared to the original plan. The differences highlighted by this type of mapping helps mining companies make more informed operational decisions.
This application of 3D scanning has revolutionized how mining companies weigh the payloads of ore trucks and assess the volume of stockpiles. Previously, this work was done manually, either with static scales or by on-site specialists who estimated the size and volume of stockpiles. Volumetric scanning technology uses a 3D scanner and imaging software to perform these tasks automatically. Trucks move beneath a suspended scanner and the payload of the truck is measured and recorded. This allows mining companies to generate more accurate load data faster, which improves operational efficiency, increases the accuracy of inventory tracking, and assists with both compliance and cost control, both of which depend on precise data about how much material the operation is moving in, around, and off the site.
Spatial data refers to the information about the position of an object in a geographic coordinate system. In mining, spatial data visualization enables more efficient design of new mining operations. Detailed 3D models of mines include moveable, rotatable objects and spatial depth that helps planning teams understand the environment with greater precision and make more accurate decisions in less time.
Spatial data visualization coupled with immersive virtual reality (VR) allow mining teams to test equipment virtually with no risk, then use this analysis to deploy equipment more effectively and efficiently. In addition, augmented reality (AR) overlays a digital 3D image over an actual environment, creating opportunities to accelerate and improve training programs for equipment maintenance and other vital activities.
The mapping and inspection techniques enabled by 3D scanning can be applied to mining equipment and infrastructure as well. The concept is the same, with regular, repeated scans delivering important insights about the condition of equipment and maintenance schedules as well as detecting potential issues earlier so they can be resolved before there is any impact on the mine’s productivity.
Wear analysis is a critical operation in mining. For SAG mills, AG mills, ball mills, both primary and secondary jaw crushers, and other earthmoving equipment like dozer blades and bucket teeth, wear analysis validates feeds and speeds for specific types and sizes of rocks and also helps mining companies plan to replace parts as they wear down.
Replacing worn parts in these systems can be somewhat time-consuming, and every day a mine is offline the company is losing money. Powered by 3D scanning technology, wear analysis can be done quickly and accurately to help teams develop efficient maintenance plans, maximize the lifespan of wear parts and avoid the risk of unplanned and expensive downtime.
As 3D scanning technology continues to evolve alongside the powerful software platforms used to analyze the data and modern computing hardware, mining companies can expect to learn even more about their operations and use these insights to increase safety, efficiency and profitability in mines around the world.
If you’d like to get an in-depth understanding of the impact of 3D scanning in mining, including the unique advantages, and where the future of 3D scanning may lead, download our white paper Light at the End of the Tunnel: 3D Scanning for Mining Applications.