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Penguin ships robot to Chile’s Andina Mine

May 20, 2015
by Norm Tollinsky
In: Technology

System is designed to clear hangups in block cave mines

Hangup assessment and removal robotic system developed by Sudbury-based Penguin Automated Systems Inc. features an arm that extends 15 feet horizontally and 33 feet vertically through the throat of a drawbell in a block cave mine.

Hangup assessment and removal robotic system developed by Sudbury-based Penguin Automated Systems Inc. features an arm that extends 15 feet horizontally and 33 feet vertically through the throat of a drawbell in a block cave mine.

Penguin Automated Systems Inc. has shipped the world’s first hangup assessment and removal robotic system to Codelco’s Andina Mine in Chile.

Built by Penguin at its sprawling manufacturing centre in Naughton, 20 kilometres west of Sudbury, the robotic system features an arm that extends 15 feet horizontally and 33 feet vertically through the throat of a drawbell in a block cave mine.

At the end of the arm are a 3D camera, an infrared lighting system, a drill and an explosives loader.

The robot scans the inside of the drawbell and creates a virtual map of the hangup, explains Penguin CEO Greg Baiden.

The system collects point cloud data and transfers it into a gaming engine that allows an operator in a specially adapted Normet RBO personnel carrier a safe distance away to optimize the position of the arm, drill a hole, load an explosives charge and remotely clear the blockage.

Until now, according to Baiden, miners had to resort to “shoving bamboo poles up through the throat with explosives ducktaped to them,” exposing themselves to hundreds of tonnes of rock that could give way without warning.

“This is an infinitely safer solution than anything that’s ever been done before,”
he said.

The robotic system built for Codelco could be the first of many more units given the growing number of block cave mines around the world and the importance of coming up with a way to clear blockages without exposing miners to unnecessary risk.

Of the estimated 200,000 drawbells in the world, up to10 per cent of them are blocked at any one time, said Baiden.

The robot uses a military positioning system that allows for the adjustment of the pitch, roll and yaw of the machine, which in turn allows the operator to
precisely guide the robotic arm through the throat to the blockage.

“It’s probably one of the most sophisticated robotic arms ever built,” said Baiden. “There are 20 plus patents in it.”

Optical communication

An optical communication system provides the bandwidth necessary to gather the point cloud information and transmit it back to the robot in real time. Optical receivers on each side of the robot absorb the light from LEDs and convert it to a different format so it can be digitized.

“Typically, optical signals have to be point-to-point and aimed right on line, which would have been a problem, but we developed a way to collect the optical information in a 70-metre hemisphere all around the receiver,” said Baiden.

One of the challenges Penguin designers had to overcome was how to open and extend the arm to its full extent within the limited confines of an underground drift. The problem was overcome by designing it to telescope out horizontally and then vertically with support for the vertical part of the arm provided by “a stinger” that extends down to the ground. In overcoming this as well as other challenges, Penguin worked closely with Codelco’s Hector Cerda, who heads up innovation, and Juan Sanchez, a senior operations engineer at Andina.

The robot is an all-electric, battery-powered machine. It operates without emissions and so quietly that Codelco wanted it equipped with beepers and lights so it wouldn’t sneak up on people, said Baiden.

Pan-tilt-zoom cameras with spritzers and windshield wiper blades to keep the lenses clean are installed on each corner of the robot to provide the operator with situational awareness.

Penguin is working with a mining equipment manufacturer to market them worldwide, but has committed to building the electronics and robotics in Sudbury.

According to Baiden, there are several other potential applications for a robot with these capabilities – in sublevel cave mines and ore passes, as well as for
explosives dismantling, environmental disaster response, or cleanup and remediation work at a nuclear power plant like Fukushima in Japan – where the Penguin robot can access and perform complex tasks without putting people at risk.

Fednor and the Northern Ontario Heritage Corporation provided a total of $2 million in loans and grants for the development of the robot. Penguin itself has spent more than $1 million of its own money on the project and Codelco has put money into it, said Baiden.

Some 30 engineers and technicians worked on the project, doing all the design, fabrication and assembly on site.

www.penguinasi.com

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