Understanding Challenges of Integrating Automation Solutions for Underground Mining in a Sociotechnical System: A Qualitative Interview Study

Open Access
Conference Proceedings
Authors: Yemao ManJoakim ÅströmDawid Ziobro

Abstract: In recent years there has been more development of automation solutions for underground mining operations. Various vendors usually provide their proprietary machines and remote operation stations (ROS) to their customers, which makes information for remote supervisory control increasingly distributed and scattered for the operators. Integrating existing automation solutions such as introducing unified ROS could be considered potentially beneficial to ameliorate the problem of information fragmentation, enhance user experience and improve productivity, but it is critical to understand the effect of such future technological solutions in the sociotechnical system where elements of human, technologies and organization interact with each other. Integrating automation solutions is essentially bringing changes to the work system which would potentially pose new demands on the human operators and existing rules. This paper aims to uncover the challenges that may emerge in the sociotechnical system of remote underground mining as well as their design implications. A field study to a modern underground mining site in Sweden was conducted to explore the user perspectives of a diverse range of the workers who are designated different tasks per current organizational structure and goals. During the field study, eight participants including six remote control operators and two management personnel were invited for in-depth individual interviews. Additionally, two of them and another five operators were invited for a focus group interview. The participants were asked about their experiences of remote control operations and their interaction with the existing systems, together with their perceptions and views on how a unified remote operation station can affect their daily practice. The qualitative data were analyzed using thematic analysis. The findings have revealed a range of inter-connected challenges for the realization of the unified ROS, covering cognitive, organizational, physical, technical and interface design aspects. They suggest that whether the operators can continue succeeding in remote supervisory control does not only rely on the capabilities of the futuristic notion of unified ROS, but also on how the human-technology interaction relationship unfolds in the new working context. These insights inform the value of a holistic systems approach when it comes to feasibility studies on new technologies and their impact on human users. To address the concerns of the operators and ensure improved user experience and safety, it is important that the design of the systems is aligned with reorganization endeavors. Besides, collaborative efforts among industrial vendors are considered necessary to ultimately benefit the users.

Keywords: Challenge, Integration Automation, Unified, Cognition, Organization, Mining, Sociotechnical Systems, Interface Design

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe1002773

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