As the central government has required Chinese coal companies to prioritize miners' health and safety in recent years, several coal producers are starting to embrace intelligent technologies as an alternative to traditional mining.
The number of fully mechanized coal mining faces in China has increased from 3 in 2015, to 275 in 2019, and is expected to exceed 550 by the end of this year, according to data from a report by China Coal News.
For now, six coal mining provinces in China are developing intelligent work faces, such as East China's Shandong Province, North China's Shanxi Province and Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, accounting for 80 percent of the number of Chinese coal mining work faces.
By using intelligent technologies, the number of miners on the coal face has been significantly reduced. Miners are only required to monitor mining machines on the roadway or at the control center.
90 percent of Yankuang Group's coal mines (which merged with the Shandong Energy Group to establish the new Shandong Energy Group) have reduced their number of underground miners by more than 9,700 by developing intelligent mines.
By 2022, the number of intelligent mining faces will hit more than 1,000 in China, with output from these intelligent faces growing to between 1 billion and 1.5 billion tons. In addition, a batch of intelligent coal wells will be built, according to a three-year action plan published this year by agencies.
China's domestically-supported 5G special network system was first used at a coal mine in Zoucheng, East China's Shandong Province. The coal mine, operated by Shandong Energy Group, reduced its data transmission time to 20 milliseconds through its use of 5G, achieving real-time manipulation in underground unmanned coal mining.
Shendong Coal, a unit of China Energy Investment Corp, has built China's first intelligent mine demonstration projects, including key technologies in smart coal mines, a 100 million-ton regional coal mine with centralized control, and an intelligent coal preparation plant.
In total, 21 different types of robots have been put into use by Shendong Coal, such as robotic shearer machines, work face inspection robots, continuous excavation robots and belt conveyor robots.
Although Chinese coal producers have made some strides in achieving intelligent coal mining, it should be noted that 92 percent of coal mines still extract coal using miners. China should further develop core technologies and equipment and train high-end talent in the mining industry, in a bid to achieve comprehensive intelligent coal mining systems, analysts said.