Komatsu & Nokia outline the upside of private LTE for autonomous haulage

A recent webinar from Nokia and Komatsu entitled Making Autonomous Haulage Systems a Reality covered how industrial-grade private LTE wireless networks are powering mining innovation, specifically looking at AHS, while including an update from Komatsu on its AHS progress and its preference for LTE over WiFi backed up with specific cases, as well as discussing in some detail how the two companies have been and will be working together.

Jaime Laguna Ramirez, Nokia Global Practice Segment Leader for Oil & Gas and Mining said that asset intensive industries like mining are pushing the convergence of IT and OT as key elements like intelligent analytics, AI and machine learning systems are demanding high bandwith, low latency and massive connectivity. He added that Industry 4.0 is making mining safer, more efficient and more productive. Efficiency is increasing wth process automation, with increased agility to meet fast changing requirements. It also allows for better decision making via intelligent insights while increasing worker safety and productivity. Lastly there is undoubtedly a sustainability factor as the greater efficiency helps lower environmental impact. All this while maintaining asset heavy industries “must have” needs of continuous operations with multiple redundancies & mission critical performance, efficiency/safety relyng on coordination between multiple physical assets at work sites and in the field and security, while having the flexibility to react to change. Nokia is a mission critical telecoms companies that has been able to work with miners to fully understand how connectivity fits in with all of these needs. Nokia also quickly realised the importance of interoperability and working directly with key industry technology suppliers like Komatsu.

Digitalisation and automation are now filtering through the whole mining process from data enabled exploration to the construction supply chain, integrated drill and blast with AHS fleets, fully integrated mine to plant processing, product delivery logistics and end to end asset management, to the point where Bell Labs Consulting has estimated that automation in total is now having an average 17.2% positive effect on mining productivity, with AHS fleets alone accounting for 5.5% of this.

Jaime admitted that wired networks will continue to play their part in certain areas, but that adapted WiFi systems that have met needs until now they will not be able to meet future needs in reliability, security and performance. In industrial wireless terms, Nokia says the choice can make or break a mine’s journey to digital transformation. P2MP networks are one option but Nokia argues that they have disadvantages like low scalability, non-Cloud management/operation, relatively low availability (95.5%), resiliency and reliability and using a proprietary vendor lock in ecosystem. Private LTE offers a standards-based solution broadly deployed globally with 99.99% availability with high resiliency, suitability for WAN and LAN for mobility unlike P2MP, high device density for scalability, inherently virtualised and compatible with Cloud-native and end to end security and encryption. It also offers a natural evolution to 5G for mines, which shares these attributes and offers much more such as supporting local breakout connections allowing traffic between end-points minimising latency and converging connectivity mediums on to one platform with very high availability of 99.999% and massive targeted bandwith plus network slicing capability. Early 5G standards are focussing on mobile broadband CSP deployments with expected standards and terminals in 2022.

Today’s Private 4.9G/LTE offers uplink of 300 Mbps and downlink of 1.5 Gbps and can support 85% of industrial applications, including AHS systems – and for this reason LTE is now dominating in mines that are using or introducing AHS fleets. In summary, Nokia industrial grade private LTE wireless offers a single network for voice, video, data and IoT applications with reliable, secure connectivity for operation critical comms. It also offers 360 degree situational awareness for remote and autonomous operations. Mines can now collect and analyse data from IoT sensors, cameras and drones plus get full visibility of people, assets and infrastructure plus monitor all operations in real time with the ability to respond quickly to critical events. There is no need for mines to wait for 5G, private LTE/4.9G is available today and is more than capable of delivering, while transition to 5G will be largely seamless.

Moving onto cooperation with Komatsu, working together the companies say they are already proving how interoperability works between networks and platforms by utilising the power of Private LTE wireless already in areas like drilling and hauling, geofencing and geotracking and asset lifecycle optimisation at remote, automated and autonomous operations.

Then it was over to David Haukeness, Product Manager AHS at Komatsu who started with a quote from one of is mining AHS customers: “Our best day in a manned operation is what we get every day in an autonomous operation.” He emphasised that operational excellence in productivity, efficiency and safety are the key drivers in all of this for mining not just for the sake of having new technology.

He then gave an up to the moment update on its global footprint – it currently has 247 autonomous haul trucks in operation and for the first time there was a full breakdown of model types – namely 85 830E, 134 930E and 28 980E trucks running on AHS. After 13 years of commercial AHS operation, the 3 billion tonnes milestone has just been passed (with 2 billion only just passed in November 2018) with no system related injuries or accidents, and the company expects that by end 2020 it will have over 15 AHS sites running, up from 11 by end of last year, for 7+ mining clients, up from 5 in 2019; with over 350 AHS trucks set to be operating by end 2020. Notably of the sites so far with Komatsu AHS, over 50% (seven sites) are running on Nokia LTE with the remaining six using 802.11 WiFi.

Today’s AHS in the degrees of autonomy sits above manual operation, assisted automation, partial automation and conditional automation at what can be referred to as high automation, where the trucks have the ability to execute core functions and intervention only needed for complex functions. But the next level, full automation, will come – where all functions are automated and performance exceeds that of manual and where the mine plan can be uploaded to equipment and the mine plan execution is carried out autonomously. How do you get to that next step? Haukeness identified drivers like the cost profile of manpower, high employee turnover, infrastructure requirements, operating expenses, need for higher productivity and continued safety incidents; with key enabling factors including new tech leveraged from other industries like automotive, machine learning (AI) and edge computing, new personnel skills acquisition (eg operational automation specialists), a conducive regulatory and political environment and last but not least, standards-based interoperability and infrastructure. Komatsu says safety is the number one factor in AHS introduction for its customers ahead of productivity.

So why is Komatsu making the case for private LTE? Haukeness highlighted some of the earlier points made by Jaime Laguna Ramirez – coverage, capacity and latency – which mean it is now the preferred solution over WiFi. LTE usually has much higher allowed output power, resulting in a longer range. It also has lower frequency bands, meaning signals travel further on the same amount of power. It has licensed and coordinated frequencies leading to less noise. As a result, meeting AHS needs requires drastically less field equipment to maintain in most cases.

From a reliability standpoint, the air interface with LTE is more reliable being private, licensed and full duplex. It allows for the notification of errored frames immediately to the UE and scheduled re-broadcast. Less equipment to maintain means better maintenance focus per equipment and less work for field teams leading to greater uptime, while reliability of message delivery is orders of magnitude better on LTE versus 802.11 WiFi. Looking at Quality of Service, (QoS), this is a key enabler – full duplex transmission and built in robust QoS mechanisms lead to a dynamic shift in the capabilities of the network. Sharing of connection leads to better outcomes for mission critical applications when compared to sharing the same workload on traditional 802.11 WiFi systems. What does this mean? In autonomous mine network is both a process control and a process stop network. Safety in the field is on one level dependent on the network as it is delivering key messages to trucks like stop or slow down.

With WiFi one client transmits at a time and if two frames are sent at once, both are lost and must retry. LTE divides up frequency and time with the eNodeB deciding who each block is assigned to – and UEs with high priority traffic get more blocks when allowed. Multiple UEs can transmit simultaneously. This all ensures critical network traffic is delivered on time. Haukeness said that looking at when Komatsu transitioned from WiFi to LTE at its Arizona Proving Ground, on any given day the WiFi packet loss was about 4%. While that is a relatively good number, with LTE installed in the first four hours of use the loss was minute – about 4 packets of data.

What about use cases that illustrate the importance of very high network reliability? Collision Awareness Systems (CAS) is one example. In CAS products, direct comms are essential to the function but only provide half the functionality that true Industry 4.0 needs, namely direct, real time warnings, notifications and communication of intents with limited range and throughput. LTE provides a path back to the servers, allowing for system login, reporting, geofencing, violations and real time notifications. It also enables V2X (vehicle to anything) instead of just V2V (vehicle to vehicle). Collecting real time data for analysis can help predict behaviours before they happen.

Another example is hangtime reduction (shovel hanging waiting for the truck to spot in the right position by acting as a visual indicator). In a conventional mine guided spotting using GPS assistance can reduce it to 8 seconds from a typical veteran operator figure of 12-15 seconds or a rookie operator of typically 26 seconds. What has this got to do with LTE? Theoretically with AHS you can reach zero hangtime, which on average is 13% of a shovel’s typical time consumed (based on 15 seconds). The autonomous truck navigates to the spot point automatically without the shovel needing to hang as a visual indicator. Saving those 15 seconds means for 18 loads an hour an extra 4.5 minutes of extra capacity per hour, or 1.5 hours per day equating to 547.5 hours a year which can be equated to 2.19 Mt of gained material loaded based on a shovel working at 4,000 t/h. The more reliable the network, the more these gains are guaranteed

Looking more generally at comms, an internal mine study of WiFi connected AHS trucks at three minesites showed that comms equipment problems accounted for 15.13% of time lost in a 24 hour period, that’s 13 minutes 6 seconds of time lost per AHS truck per day or 318,766 lost tonnes per year. One customer that converted from 802.11 to LTE reduced AHS truck slowing comms related events by almost 85% which increased production by over 255,000 t/y purely because of the more consistent network connectivity of LTE. Trucks connected to the network more reliably are also safer as they don’t have to fall back on LIDAR or ODS and other methods for awareness of other vehicles when connectivity is lost.

Lastly, why did Komatsu opt to work with Nokia on LTE? First Haukeness said that Nokia’s involvement at the Arizona Proving Grounds enabled Komatsu to build a robust development network and meet key deployment timelines for customers. It also enabled Komatsu to be first to market with AHS on LTE allowing customers to have safer and more productive operations faster. LTE’s increased network reliability has allowed Komatsu to focus resources on application development instead of network issues. It has allowed Komatsu to run data collection and analytics in parallel with mission critical traffic. LTE has also allowed Komatsu to co-locate applications on a single network/modem that wasn’t possible on WiFi at the time because of differences in the nature of the two protocols. Lastly, the reliability and QoS functions have allowed Komatsu to diversify the types of data collected, to drive the creation of better autonomous driving software and feed real time into analytics platforms to create better insights.

Nokia’s Jaime Laguna Ramirez concluded on possible next cooperation steps between the two companies – 5G implementation at the Arizona Proving Grounds, pushing thought leadership in the mining technology sector and creating new network solutions for industrial automation. 5G will mean increased speeds, ultra reliable low latency comms and less contention for spectrum. It will enable true machine learning with prediction of behaviours and actions, analysis of complex terrain for navigation and identifying anomalies that create safety hazards. Self provisioning wireless 5G networks will allow applications to communicate their needs themselves.