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Mining efforts need to be increased to meet accelerating demand for precious metals and minerals, as our use of renewables and devices, which rely on these sources, grows. Compared with other global industries mining has lagged behind in terms of advancement of technology use. However, all that is changing to help the industry evolve, become leaner and more efficient. Robotics and construction are just some of the sectors that are already teaming up with mining to develop innovations to help it realize its potential, and now the photonics industry is joining them.
Applications of Laser Technology in Mining
The future development of laser technology for use in mining has two major focuses. The first application is using lasers in 3D imaging technologies. Mines must be explored to map them thoroughly, to understand their structure and composition, and to be able to safely plan mining operations with reduced risk to workers. In addition, new potential mining sites need to be surveyed in detail to aid decision as to whether it’s a viable site to explore. 3D imaging has improved greatly with the incorporation of lasers, resulting in scanning that can produce intricate three-dimensional images of the environment.
This kind of technology has already been adopted by the fields of civil engineering, architectural design, and forensic investigation, however, it is only just emerging in the field of mining. This is surprising given the huge benefits it brings, but unsurprising given the industry’s stagnation in terms of onboarding new technologies up until recently. Personal such as rock engineers, ventilation engineers, safety officers and those working to survey dangerous and difficult to access mining sites are finding laser technology to be of great use to them in making their jobs easier, reducing time to complete tasks, and making their work more accurate. The future will see further adoption of laser scanning techniques, planning and surveying are such a key part to the mining industry, and it is also an aspect of the work which involves a lot of risk to workers. Therefore, developments in this technology will be welcomed not only to cut costs and boost efficiency but to also improve upon safety.
The second major focus is establishing laser technology to be used for precise drilling. Lasers can be used to cut through strong materials, even rock. Within the mining industry they have been developed to be able to open holes up in pits, and spall rock, making the use of traditional drilling and blasting methods redundant. The impact of this is that less energy is used, as lasers take less power to work than conventional equipment, this is important as the mining industry is one of the world’s largest energy consumers and they are under pressure to reduce this, costs also are cut through spending less on energy supply. The use of lasers as drills also means that the work can be conducted with increased precision.
The laser drilling method works by harnessing optical power output lasers which can both cut and spall the rock that holds the material that needs to be excavated. The difference between spalling with a laser and spalling in the conventional way is that lasers generate small “pea” sized chips of spalled material which is easy to relocate to the surface.
The future will see machinery and tools such as jacklegs, drill steel, bits, powder and blasting caps being made redundant in favor of using lasers for drilling. Without having to purchase such extensive kit, and using a laser to do the same job as a multitude of tools, this shift in the industry will see the cost of mining projects reducing. In addition, fewer workers will be required to operate a laser system, cutting on the cost of labor, and allowing manpower to be redeployed to areas requiring more skilled work.
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