The importance of autonomous technology training

  • By Sunil Kumar, Training Coordinator, RCT

With the huge potential for new technology to revolutionise mining operations, high-quality training of personnel is needed to ensure safety and efficiency

Across the global mining industry, there is an ever-increasing adoption of smart technology. Gone are the days where miners worked in isolation, digging up earth and hoping to strike pay dirt. Now, every stage of the mining process is jam-packed with technology designed to improve the mining process and safeguard mining personnel.

The inevitable uptake of smart technology, advanced communications infrastructure and autonomous machinery has created the need to ensure employees are suitably trained and confident in using this technology.

What should be covered in autonomous technology training?

When it comes to autonomous technology, employee training can be categorised into two streams: equipment operators and maintenance personnel.

In general, comprehensive operator training should focus on equipment functionality, and be designed to impart all necessary knowledge to the operator so they can get the most out of the equipment.

Maintenance training should delve deeper into the underlying technology. This may include teaching mine site personnel to replace components and conduct other minor maintenance works. As an extension of this, RCT also offers an advanced maintenance package for select customers, which teaches suitably qualified mine employees to service individual components and carry out the type of activities that RCT’s specialised technicians would carry out on a site visit. By properly training and empowering mine site employees to do this work, efficiency can be improved. 

Health, safety and training

Personal safety has been one of the key drivers behind an uptake of training programs in the global mining industry. Most countries that we work in have stringent laws governing people working in hazardous environments. Furthermore, in recent times there has been a noticeable cultural shift inside mining companies who want to protect their workers and safeguard their operations.

Using autonomous technology in hazardous environments is a clearly favourable outcome, because a lot of the work where autonomous technology can be deployed involves removing people from contact with dust, smoke, extreme weather, chemical particles and long shifts – often in confined working spaces such as underground operations.

But in order to use autonomous technology properly, personnel need to be well-informed about standard operating procedures to avoid serious incidents involving machines and people.

Getting the most out of new technology

Properly trained personnel contribute significantly to operational efficiency and productivity because technology is only as good as how it is used. In our experience, most people underutilise the technology that they possess.

A simple example, in a non-work context, is the smartphone, which has the power and potential to improve personal productivity multi-fold if used optimally. But most people only use about 10 to 15 per cent of the features and capabilities available on their devices.

This same principle applies to autonomous technology in the mining industry, where new equipment may not be being used efficiently, or to its fullest extent. But with proper training, good operators can become great operators, and mine site productivity can increase multi-fold.

The generation gap and the future of training

Training is equally essential for both younger workers – who are traditionally more technologically savvy – and older workers, who are generally in the process of adapting to new technologies in the mining industry. Autonomous technology is going into every mine and is deeply embedded in new mine infrastructure. Therefore it is important that the entire workforce be upskilled.  

Going forward, face-to-face training delivered on mine sites or in offices remains important, and will be complemented by online training portal which will enable educators to reach very remote mine sites that are difficult to access physically. Online training also has the potential to focus more on repeat training and refresher modules, where a pre-existing level of knowledge (and a relationship with the trainer) already exists.  

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