Coal mining in Europe can occur at a depth of 1400 metres where both the rock temperature and pressure are significantly greater than in the shallow deposits in Australia and America. To compete, European coal producers need to be highly productive. And the only way to improve productivity is through the mechanisation of all processes and optimal automation of the mining equipment.
© Euracoal, 2012
NEMAEQ was a project funded by the Research Fund for Coal and Steel (RFCS) that began in July 2006 and lasted for three years . With European Union (EU)-funding of € 2,285,493 , NEMAEQ addressed the need for automation in mining which has increased the productivity of the equipment. It was coordinated by German company RAG Deutsche Steinkohle and in total 8 partners from Germany, Spain, Poland and the United Kingdom were involved.
The main focus of NEMAEQ was the development of a fully automatic shearer loader system which cuts and loads the coal without major manual interaction. It included such features as load dependent regulation, coal/rock distinction, collision avoidance and appropriate control and data processing technologies. The project also aimed at creating an optimal technological and organisational environment to ensure the maximum efficiency of the automated shearer. This included enhancing the efficiency of the cutting drum, the development of a fibre optic system to transfer the masses of data gained from the various sensors to the control room at the surface and the introduction of a maintainability assessment tool.
Several attempts had previously been made to operate the shearer loader in an automatic or semi-automatic mode. However, these trials failed because of inadequate reliability of the components and a lack of appropriate software tools," said Dr. Jürgen Czwalinna who coordinated the consortium. "NEMAEQ has overcome these hurdles and today, maximised coal production can be assured by improving the selectivity of coal cutting, thus minimising the amount of waste which has a positive impact on the environment. The automation reduces labour costs and increases machine running time as the equipment is more reliable. At the same time, working conditions for the miners are improved."
NEMAEQ has made the European coal mining industry more competitive. Stabilising the domestic coal supply is also beneficial as it helps reduce the dependency on imports. And according to Czwalinna, an important additional strength in NEMAEQ lies in exporting the equipment to coal producers in booming markets such as Australia and China. In fact, 7 additional automated shearers have been ordered by mining operations in both Germany and Australia.
"Our equipment is developed in Europe where the mining conditions are the most difficult in the world. This means our product is the best because if it works here, it will work anywhere," says Czwalinna. NEMAEQ's success has not gone unnoticed. In November 2009, it won the DSK Innovation Award and in March 2010 the project won the Innovation Award at BAUMA, the biggest industrial fair for construction and mining equipment in Europe.