November 30, 2023

Nutrien is pioneering the development of cutting-edge tele-remote mining technology in Saskatchewan, marking a significant step towards the future of mining. The initiative has the potential to transform mining operations by enhancing safety and efficiency.

Nutrien’s tele-remote mining technology, currently deployed at its Cory Mine near Saskatoon, enables operators to control mining vehicles from up to 20 kilometers away. This breakthrough is being hailed as the first step towards automated mining, a concept that has the potential to revolutionize the industry.

Safety is the primary motivation behind Nutrien’s investment in the technology. Traditionally, miners work in physically demanding conditions, often close to the mining face, which poses inherent risks. The tele-remote approach dramatically changes these conditions, shifting operators away from the front lines and into a more comfortable and ergonomic setting.

Leon Boehn, Nutrien Cory Mine’s General Manager, emphasized the advantages of tele-remote mining.

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“Our latest endeavors and innovations, that we are working on, is tele-remote mining and working towards autonomous mining. What that really means, is that we can operate the mining machine and the bridges and all the equipment that goes with it from remote locations. That makes us more efficient and safer.”

The technology has also changed the way mining operators work. Whereas they would traditionally sit on the mining machines. The technology allows them to sit in a more office like environment.

“The operators work in a station set up above ground. They are sitting in office chairs, removed from the noise, the dust and the exposure of the active mining face. The technology gives them full control, vision and hearing of their surroundings one kilometer below them.”

Chris Reynolds, Nutrien’s President of Potash, highlighted the company’s journey towards tele-remote mining technology, stating, “We wanted to get people away from that mine face. That is how our journey towards tele-remote mining started 15 years ago. We are still early in the journey, but we are doing studies to see how much the remote mining is improving safety.” He added, “There are safety benefits, cost benefits, and it allows us to have a more inclusive workspace. There are just countless areas where we really like this technology in our operations.”

Beyond safety, the technology has proven to be a catalyst for cost-efficiency. With operators stationed in climate-controlled offices, shift changes no longer lead to downtime, significantly boosting productivity.

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Nutrien developed all the technology in-house. Additionally, the mining machines used in the project were supplied by Prairie Machine, a local Saskatoon company.

Prairie Machine has a rich history of serving potash mines in the region since 1977. They’ve engineered, designed, and built their mining vehicles for over two decades and have recently expanded their electric vehicle branch, known as Rokion, which has supplied vehicles to mines in countries as far-flung as Australia and Mexico. These state-of-the-art mining vehicles, while a significant investment, play a crucial role in the primary extraction of ore that Nutrien supplies to the global market.

Kipp Sakundiak, Prairie Machine CEO, emphasized the impact of their machines in the mining industry, saying, “Each miner costs 20,000 man-hours to put together. 2,500 unique parts and half a million pounds of steel and materials go into just one machine. They retail around 9 million dollars, but prices are up for discussion.”

Sakundiak pointed out that Prairie Machine’s vehicles are all fully electric, contributing to cleaner air inside mines. These vehicles have been sold in Australia, Mexico, England, South Africa, and the USA, marking a significant milestone for the local company.

The shift towards tele-remote mining offers a brighter future for both the mining industry and the workforce. As the world looks for more sustainable and safer mining practices, Nutrien and Prairie Machine’s collaboration in Saskatchewan showcases the potential of technology to make mining more efficient and, most importantly, safer for everyone involved.

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