Rio Tinto this week announced a new underground tunnelling system is ready for trial at Northparkes copper and gold mine in the Central West of New South Wales in 2012.
The system will use underground positioning technologies to ensure a high level of accuracy.
The tunnel boring system (TBS) is based on the standard mine surveying system that is used in the industry involving theodolites and laser.
This mine surveying system will connect to the TBS, which has several prisms installed, and an inclinometer, allowing the operator to know the exact position of the TBS at all times.
This information is fed to the guidance system computer, which generates the data for the actual positioning and steering of the TBS.
Rio Tinto Head of innovation John McGagh said the new tunnel boring system should provide a capability to excavate at more than double the rate of conventional methods.
“For example, in a typical deep copper ore body, the rate of horizontal tunnelling could be as high as 10–13 metres a day using this new system,” he said.
The new system was developed in partnership with Aker Wirth.
The work is part of Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future program, which aims to enable Rio Tinto to more effectively carry out exploration, more efficiently exploit resources, and to allow safer, faster and deeper underground operations whilst economically recovering mineral resources from increasingly difficult deposits.