RCT CEO and Executive Director, Brett White (pictured), thinks interoperability will, in the future, prove crucial in allowing mining companies to yield the full benefits of autonomy in their operations.
Speaking in an opinion piece that looked back at the company’s history to chart just how far the company has come in its own automation journey, he said RCT continues to differentiate itself from its peers by offering these vendor-agnostic solutions.
He said: “‘What benefit can Automation technology deliver for us?’ That is the type of question being posed in boardrooms and among senior management in mining companies these days. There is a strong focus on identifying productivity constraints and inefficiency and finding ways to overcome them, which is where RCT differs in the market.
“RCT’s automation technology is built to be scalable and agnostic to any machine make or model that you may find on a mine site anywhere and based on the data and feedback from customers our technology provides them the quickest benefit.”
The company’s automation journey started many decades ago at a time when serious injury and even fatalities occurred regularly throughout the mining industry, according to White.
“During the 1980s the company’s founder Bob Muirhead worked with the CSIRO to pioneer remote control technology for the Australian mining industry as a way to protect mine workers from very hazardous situations,” he said.
“Over the years, the company has seen many major milestones including being the first company to install its ControlMaster® Line-of-Sight solution on a bulldozer for a mining company in 1988 and the first company to deliver an off-the-shelf Teleremote solution.
“The technological packages were in keeping with Bob’s ethos that if an activity is inherently unsafe it should be remote controlled and if it is repetitive then the activity should be automated. The health and safety benefit to having workers removed from the hazardous mining areas is extremely significant. Furthermore, a lot of processes in an underground load/haul/dump sequence are repeatable so being able to automate such a cycle offers many benefits such as increased and consistent tramming speeds, reduced machine damage and component wear, resulting in less unplanned machine downtime and maximising operational productivity.”
Many years of work at RCT culminated in the commercial release of ControlMaster Guidance Automation solution in Perth, Western Australia, in 2009. This was the first Australia-designed-and-built automated system delivered to the domestic market and had a significant impact on mine design to support and maximise the benefits the technology offered and drive further productivity efficiencies including surface operation during shift change and mine re-entries, according to White.
White said: “At present Guidance Automation is proving to be the product that best meets the demand of mining industry executives who are interested in how they can get the most value out of their fleet and personnel by leveraging technology.”
Based on the company’s data and customer feedback, Guidance Automation can alleviate production bottlenecks and provide a quick return on investment, which, in terms of the latter, is in some cases a matter of weeks.
More recent product developments include Guidance Expand or Multiple Machine Control enabling a single operator to control multiple machines, including mixed machine types at the same time from one operator station.
White said: “A major key to RCT’s success has been our ability to provide an agnostic solution and deliver meaningful technology suitable for today’s mining operations but with roadmaps that will take them to the next horizon. This means our clients have the freedom and flexibility to choose mining equipment from a diverse range of original equipment manufacturers to suit their mining operational needs, safe in the knowledge that RCT’s industry leading solutions will interface to provide operational excellence.”
The RCT Bridge solution highlights the company’s reputation as an innovative and adaptable technology manufacturer, allowing clients to use existing teleremote communication (analogue) infrastructure to provide a cost-effective pathway to mine digitisation, White said.
White estimates that, over nearly half a century, RCT has worked with 90% of the Australia market. The company has also made significant investments in international markets with branches in Utah, US, and Sudbury, Canada.
“We have also worked for mining companies and contractors in 68 different countries installing various different automation products including Line-of-Sight, Teleremote and Guidance Automation as well as delivering large-scale complex customised automation and integrated solutions,” White said.
In 2019, RCT will be “solidifying its presence in South America” with the opening of a new branch in Santiago, Chile, White said. This will better enable its regional staff to support customers, he added. “We are also planning to open an office in Russia to better support clients in the region and bolster our existing support team throughout Africa. These offices will underpin our strategy to have greater on-ground support for all clients,” he said.
White concluded: “Our in-house engineers are currently testing RCT’s surface autonomous solutions as part of the company’s long-term development strategy. While the company has always been active in surface applications for individual pieces of mine equipment through remotes and teleremote options, we are committed to developing our fully-autonomous technology options for fleets of surface equipment utilising technology which has a proven record in the underground mining environment.
“RCT is committed to developing its autonomous technology for application on all mobile equipment from heavy mobile production equipment to ancillary type fleet equipment. This will ensure interoperability and allow autonomous mobile equipment to seamlessly integrate to all mine operational platforms including dispatch, management systems and fully autonomous traffic management.”