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Teleremote operation advances beyond remote control

July 9, 2024
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In the rapidly advancing field of mining technology, Dillon McKinnon, Manager of Mining Equipment Technology at SMS Equipment, shares valuable insights in Equipment Journal's coverage during the CIM Connect conference. His observations emphasize the impact of teleremote operations on improving safety, efficiency, and addressing labour challenges. Equipment Journal's in-depth coverage highlights the importance of integrating cutting-edge technology to drive progress and sustainability in mining.
By Equipment Journal
Originally published in Equipment Journal
Mining operations worldwide are improving efficiency with the use of teleremote equipment

Mining operations worldwide are improving efficiency with the use of teleremote equipment

Since making its debut in the 1980s, teleremote operated equipment has become known for its ability to improve safety on a mine site.

However, the benefits of the ability to operate machinery via remote control go well beyond its ability to remove the operator from hazardous situations.

At the recent CIM Connect, Dillon McKinnon, Manager of Mining Equipment Technology at SMS Equipment, outlined how teleremote solutions deliver numerous benefits to mine operations above and below ground.
When strategically implemented, teleremote operations will improve safety onsite, as well as help customers tackle issues like resources, equipment utilization and decarbonization.
“It’s about looking at it through a lens of a transformational approach. What are your pain points in the mining operation today? How can we look at layering in different solutions at the right level to mitigate those challenges?” McKinnon said.

Since the introduction of basic remote-controlled machinery about four decades ago, teleremote operation has advanced significantly.

“It’s starting to layer in algorithms, artificial intelligence and decision making. It’s really offloading a lot of the monotonous control functions,” McKinnon explained. “So, an operator isn’t having to fully control the machine. The machine can sort of run a lot of its functions on its own.”


With global mining operations facing a labour crunch, teleremote operation can tackle the issue on several fronts.

As teleremote allows the operator to control the machine from a distance, the use of offsite command centres can help attract a new workforce, as operators are not required to travel to remote locations or endure potentially rough working environments.

“Obviously, 12 hours a day on a machine can be extremely demanding and it can be uncomfortable. The environment can be very loud and humid, all those factors go into it,” McKinnon said. “So now we can look at putting them in a much more comfortable operating environment.”
Teleremote technology also plays to the new generation of potential employees’ existing skillsets.

“Some of the best operators that we see running teleremote equipment is the younger generation,” McKinnon said. “They grew up playing video games. They seemed to have a better ability to pick up the 2D spatial awareness and control equipment.”

Remote operation can also benefit training. For rookie operators, communication from the physical cab may be limited to radios. A remote command centre allows a trainer to supervise real-world operation.

“It helps close that gap between the simulation-based world and operating the machines,” McKinnon said. “Someone can stand next to them and kind of guide them and mentor them.”

Teleremote utilization

The ability to automate mining equipment can reduce the requirement for employees to complete repetitive and physically demanding work. This may reduce the number of employees exposed to hazardous conditions, leading to fewer errors and injuries.

By automating equipment, employees can take on a variety of tasks. McKinnon explained a frequent use case for teleremote operation is a mine requiring various machines that are not constantly utilized throughout the entire shift.

“They’ll have a cleanup dozer at a shovel, and maybe you know another dozer at a dump. They have to staff both of those pieces of equipment conventionally, but they’re not fully utilized 12 hours a day, they’re kind of on standby when they’re needed,” he said.

“From a remote operation standpoint, you only have one operator controlling both of those machines. You’re only starting them up and using them when you need them.”


The use of a single operator for multiple machines also carries environmental benefits. For example, the equipment is no longer required to idle.

“There’s usually an operator in the machine, and they’re idling the machine to keep the cab climate controlled and other factors,” McKinnon explained.

Removing the operator from the cab can also reduce the mine footprint, by optimizing resource utilization, reducing waste and preventing ecosystem disruption.
“If there’s not an operator in that piece of equipment, we can change the way we look at our slopes, how close you can get to the mine and how wide we have to build a road,” McKinnon said.

Automation may also improve compliance with environmental regulations, while using remote command centres eliminates emissions created in travelling to the mine. 

5 key pillars

At CIM Connect, McKinnon outlined the five key pillars of teleremote solutions, which include digitization, interoperability, scalability, adaptability and information. When combined, addressing the five pillars can help mine operations thrive by implementing teleremote solutions.

1. For digitization, processes that were once manual are now transforming into digital workflows for efficient data collection, analysis and decision-making.

“What can we do with all this data that’s now coming off the machine? A lot of it goes into semi-autonomous or autonomous functions that we can use to start to automate,” McKinnon said.

2. Interoperability is ensuring data and communication can move seamlessly between different machines and other systems used on a mine site.

“Mines employ a whole plethora of technology these days. It’s looking at how do we then start to integrate one machine into the broader ecosystem that a mine is operating under,” McKinnon said.

3. Scalability is enabling the system to adapt to different mining operations to accommodate future growth. 

“As we add control systems to a machine, we can then start to take that from a single machine to a fleet of machines,” he said. “We can layer in the automated functions and start to have more autonomy.”

4. Adaptability refers to allowing customization and flexibility to cater to specific needs and operating environments within the industry. 

5. The fifth pillar is information. Real-time data can optimize decision making, improve problem solving and enhance overall efficiency. 

‘It’s taking it from just having that information to what do we do with that information?” McKinnon said. “It’s around developing those algorithms … to react to what’s happening with the machine or the environment or the broader ecosystem.”

Teleremote growth

Alongside Komatsu equipment equipped with teleremote systems, SMS Equipment has partnered with RCT to provide their teleremote technology in Canada and Alaska.

“That opens the avenue well beyond Komatsu equipment. We have the ability to work with a customer and provide a solution across their fleet,” McKinnon said.

Teleremote equipment is growing in popularity at mining sites around the world with the systems primarily utilized in underground mining. However, surface mining operations are starting to account for more of the technology’s market share.

“We’re seeing a lot of significant growth, ultimately driven by the need for improved safety. But again, it’s also addressing some of those labour shortages and sustainability goals,” McKinnon said.

While Australia is dominant in the use of teleremote machines, accounting for about 40 per cent of the market, Canada is also adopting the technology at an impressive pace.

“Canada is rapidly growing and currently has about 17 per cent of that global market share,” McKinnon said. “And that can be equipment above ground and underground -— loaders, haul trucks, dozers, excavators. It’s really any type of equipment we can look at deploying the solution on.”
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