All posts by Paul Moore

Austin Engineering to supply five underground mining chute structures from PT Freeport Indonesia’s Grasberg

Global mining equipment design and manufacturer, Austin Engineering Ltd says it has recorded circa A$30 million in new contract wins in August 2021 for product and service delivery in Australia, USA, Indonesia and Chile. Notably, Austin has won a A$4.5 million underground mine products contract to supply five underground mine chute structures to PT Freeport Indonesia’s copper-gold operations at Grasberg, Tembagapura, Papua, Indonesia.

The chutes are made under license by Austin following previous successful programs. A statement said that the contract “exemplifies Austin’s determination, under phase three of its recently announced global strategy, to broaden its range of mining products, beyond its traditional offering.” The structures will be manufactured at Austin’s Batam facility in Indonesia. Early works have commenced, with completion targeted in the current calendar year.

In Chile, Austin has won a A$10 million, three-year mining equipment support contract with KGHM for supply of truck bodies and buckets to its Sierra Gorda open-pit copper and molybdenum mine.

Austin has also won contracts to supply truck bodies and other equipment to leading mining services companies including NRW Civil & Mining (NRW) and Perenti Global Ltd which will be manufactured at Austin’s Kewdale facility in Perth. It is the first contract Austin has signed with NRW.

In August, Austin received contracts for 27 truck bodies, five ore chutes and three water tanks, plus other equipment. The contract wins add strength to Austin’s order book. The company says it remains bullish on the performance outlook for the Asia Pacific region, which contributed almost 70% of business revenues in FY2021. Austin has recorded a positive start to the year in Chile but reports continued weakness in North America.

Austin CEO and Managing Director, David Singleton said: “We are buoyed to have recorded such a strong month of contract wins around the globe, including a new customer in NRW Holdings. We are delivering the highest quality mining equipment with proven efficiency gains for customers, and at competitive pricing. We are expecting strong order flow to continue through this half of the year.”

He adds: “The mine chute structure contract with Freeport Indonesia reflects Austin’s increasing focus on new products and adjacent value streams. This is in line with our global strategy to employ more innovation and technology-led design solutions for our customers, and add further products to our suite in coming years. Under our strategy, we have commenced manufacturing upgrades to our Kewdale facility to improve quality and efficiency, with upgrades to the Batam facility to follow.”

Gold Fields to trial Sandvik battery loader and truck at St Ives operation’s high grade Hamlet North mine

Advanced underground battery electric vehicles are to be put into use in Western Australia in world-leading production study. Leading gold producer Gold Fields will work with Sandvik to trial new battery electric vehicles (BEVs) as part of a major production study to run over the next two years.

Under a deal between the two companies, Gold Fields’ St Ives operation in Western Australia’s Eastern Goldfields will become the first mine in Australia to receive the new Sandvik LH518B 18 t BEV underground loader. The operation will also take delivery of an Artisan Z50 50 t BEV truck, with both vehicles to be placed into service in the Hamlet North mine. The Artisan Z50 is the predecessor to the recently launched Sandvik TH550B 50 t battery electric truck.

The battery electric technology used by the vehicles eliminates underground emissions and significantly reduces heat and noise compared to diesel vehicles. Meanwhile, Sandvik’s AutoSwap self-swapping battery system allows for a fresh battery to be installed in under six minutes for the Z50 and LH518B, delivering a major advantage over ‘fast-recharge’ battery vehicles.

Gold Fields’ Vice President – Operations (Australia), Graeme Ovens, says Gold Fields has been interested in exploring the potential of BEVs for a long time and is delighted to be collaborating with Sandvik in the trial. “We travelled around the world looking at different suppliers,” he says. “And we came to the conclusion that Sandvik was ahead of the market with their concepts and what they were doing.”

Sandvik Business Line Manager – Load and Haul, Andrew Dawson, says that the trial represents a true partnership between Sandvik and Gold Fields. Information gathered over the course of two years will be analysed and used to enhance not only the vehicles at the St Ives operation but also future Sandvik BEVs. “The real-world data that we gather will be invaluable,” he says. “Our expectation is that these battery electric vehicles will prove not only clean and reliable but that they will deliver extremely high levels of uptime.”

Ovens says a key advantage of the Sandvik BEV system compared to fast-charge battery vehicles was the ability to swap batteries and get back to work. “The machine won’t be parked for half an hour or 45 minutes while it charges,” he says. “You can swap the battery in six minutes or less and keep the machine operating. Fast-recharge systems just can’t match the speed of changing the battery.”

He says another advantage is the environment created for staff. “One of the biggest benefits is no diesel fumes and a better working environment for the people underground. There’s less heat, less fumes, and it’s a quieter a machine than diesel.”

Ovens says Gold Fields sees the use of BEVs as part of its strategy of reducing carbon emissions from its operations. The company’s Agnew gold mine in Western Australia is run on 55% renewable energy thanks to a hybrid power-generation system. A similar system is under consideration at St Ives, targeting an impressive 85% contribution from renewables.

If the trial with the Sandvik BEVs delivers strong results, Ovens anticipates such vehicles will become widely used across Gold Fields’ operations. “If this trial is successful, and we believe it will be, then we will look at rolling this technology out to our remaining underground mines in Australia,” he says. “We have also had our South Deep mine in South Africa asking for this technology. They will be keeping a watchful eye on the results of the trial.”

Ovens says Gold Fields’ ambition is for its underground mining operations to be fully electric with no diesel machines at all underground. “We’re also aiming to be fully automated and, hopefully, to get to a point where there will be nobody working underground. Everything will be either autonomous or operated from the surface.”

Andrew Dawson says the trial has been made possible due to the high levels of trust and respect between Sandvik and Gold Fields. To date, the only other production trials undertaken around Sandvik BEVs have been in the United States and Canada. Gold Fields is due to take delivery of the Z50 in the next few weeks and the LH518B in December.

About the technology

 The Sandvik LH518B is the most compact 18-tonne loader on the market and has been designed from the ground-up around an Artisan™ battery system and electric driveline. Its cutting-edge battery technology relies on Lithium-Iron Phosphate chemistry (LiFePO4). The Artisan Z50 battery-electric haul truck, meanwhile, is powered by four electric motors that generate 560 kW and 8,200 Nm of torque.

AutoSwap technology means that heavy mine infrastructure such as overhead cranes or forklifts are not needed to hoist or move vehicle batteries. All that is needed is a passing bay or an old re-mucking bay.

A dedicated team from Sandvik will be working closely with the Gold Fields team during the trial period to ensure that all data is captured and the experience from both Sandvik and Gold Fields is utilized to ensure the uptime and productivity targets are met.

Kal Tire displays innovative mining wheel inspection tool at MINExpo 2021

The Wheel Inspection tool is a new innovative tool that Kal Tire’s Innovation Centre has developed that will eliminate unexpected, costly breakdowns and help protect technicians from risk – in this case, the force of a catastrophic wheel failure. IM had the chance to see the solution close up at MINExpo 2021 with Peter Nilsson, innovation, research and development manager for Kal Tire’s Mining Tire Group.

As earthmover equipment is subjected to ever-increasing payload and speeds, wheels can develop fractures in sensitive areas such as welds, ring grooves and holes. Left unchecked, the severity of cracks can increase, leading to leaks, wheel failure and the potential to endanger lives and equipment. Having wheel/rim integrity inspected, however, can be costly and time-consuming. Wheels have to be shipped great distances to major centres for inspection by a wheel/rim manufacturer where it’s determined they’re either safe for use, need repairs or should be scrapped. The alternative is taking wheels/rims out of use after a set number of hours, even though the rim may have months of safe performance left.

With such an integral role in safe, reliable equipment operation, the Innovation Centre developed the Wheel Inspection, a portable solution that follows the circumference of a wheel/rim to scan for signs of cracking using an electromagnetic NDT system for rapid crack and corrosion assessment. The scope is designed to hug complex shapes, including welding points and ring grooves. When the solution detects a crack, a red indicator illuminates, and a mounted computer retains high-resolution scans of each weld for reporting.

Nilsson states: “Having that data means more rims in use that are safe for the pressures of the job. For customers to be able to perform rim inspections at the mine site will save costs and also provide quicker responses about which wheels can safely return to operation.” The Wheel Monitor has already been trialled in Canada and is expected to be commercially available by end-2021.

FFI CEO and FMG Chairman visit Hazelmere facility to see 221 t green hydrogen truck in action

Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) CEO Julie Shuttleworth and Fortescue Chairman Dr Andrew Forrest AO recently visited FFI’s research and development facility in Hazelmere, Perth, Australia where the FFI green team have been designing ground-breaking 100% carbon-free green hydrogen haul trucks. By the end of the decade, Fortescue has said its trucks will be running on renewable energy.

The first prototype truck is based on a converted Terex Unit Rig MT4400AC mining truck, which has a 221 t (240 ton) payload. Amazingly, it took the FFI green team only 130 days tho successfully trial renewable green hydrogen, green ammonia and battery power for trains, ship engines, surface crawler drills and haul trucks.

Next up will be the battery powered truck project which includes the design and construction of a bespoke battery electric powertrain with the ability to regenerate power as the truck travels downhill. The battery is being built by Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE) at its facility in the United Kingdom, before being integrated at Hazelmere into a prototype haul truck for performance testing at Fortescue’s mining operations. To support the full implementation of a battery-electric haulage fleet, the project will also involve the development of a fast charging unit which will harness renewable energy from Fortescue’s Pilbara Energy Connect network.





Electric Mine Consortium launches Electric Mine Simulation crowd challenge

The Electric Mine Consortium (EMC) has launched the ‘Electric Mine Simulation’ crowd challenge in partnership with the OZ Minerals Think & Act Differently ideas incubator and Unearthed.

OZ Minerals, IGO, South 32, Blackstone Minerals, Evolution Mining, Barminco and Goldfields have committed to significantly reducing their carbon footprint. These seven mining companies along with a number of partner companies, have come together to form the Electric Mine Consortium, a collaborative group seeking to accelerate progress towards a fully electrified zero carbon and zero particulates mine.

The statement continued: “Electrification of mine sites is a critical step change needed for the mining industry to achieve a zero carbon future. Switching to electric and renewable energy represents a transformational shift that will change the way mines are designed. This challenge is about using simulation to understand the impacts of electrification on mine design and through this challenge the EMC is looking to find innovators that can help do this.”

The eight-week online challenge invites companies and individuals from around the world to propose an approach to designing an open architecture, mine design simulation platform that can initially be used to compare a fully electric underground mine with its traditional diesel powered equivalent.

Brett Triffett, Transformation Technologist, from OZ Minerals explained: “There is a great opportunity to use whole-of-mine simulations that integrate all of the dependent systems so we can understand the holistic value in transitioning from diesel to electric solutions in underground mines. We would like to be able to quickly build and test different mine designs and compare things like productivity, costs, emissions and energy requirements.”

He adds: “We think that eventually this capability could be expanded to include the entire mining value chain. We have invited the crowd to propose solutions because we are not currently aware of a platform that meets this brief. What we have learned from running previous crowd challenges is that there are often people from outside our industry who have ideas or technology that can be applied to mining. These people are often unknown to us and in many cases they are unfamiliar with our industry. By participating in a crowd challenge, innovators can access a new market and be supported in developing new products and business models.”

A selected cohort from this challenge will join the Think & Act Differently incubator and be supported in developing a demonstration of their solution. The incubator program is a supportive environment that includes; funding, mentoring, opportunities for collaboration, capability uplift and exposure to mining data and mining operations from across the EMC members.

Sibanye-Stillwater investing $490 million for 50% stake of ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project

ioneer Ltd has announce that it has reached an agreement to establish a joint venture with Sibanye-Stillwater Ltd to develop the flagship Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron open pit mining project located in Nevada, US. Under the terms of the agreement, Sibanye-Stillwater will contribute $490 million for a 50% interest in the Joint Venture, with ioneer to maintain a 50% interest and retain operatorship.

ioneer has also agreed to provide Sibanye-Stillwater with an option to participate in 50% of the North Basin, upon the election of Sibanye-Stillwater to contribute up to an additional $50 million, subject to certain terms and conditions. In addition, the company has entered into a subscription agreement with Sibanye-Stillwater for a strategic placement of $70 million of ioneer ordinary shares.

The operations are scheduled to start in 2023 with a fleet of Cat® 785 Next Generation mining trucks equipped with Cat® Command for hauling, and the fleet is scheduled to expand significantly in year four. All support equipment will feature the latest MineStar technology utilising high-precision GPS and real-time analytics to maximise efficiency and accuracy in material loading. This will be the first greenfield operation in North America to utilise AHS and will mark the expansion of Command for hauling automation technology to the 140 t class Cat 785. The partnership will operate through Cashman Equipment, Nevada’s Caterpillar dealership since 1931.

The statement said the “transformational strategic investment underpinsthe quality of Rhyolite Ridge and ioneer’s future as a major lithium and boron producer in the US.” Sibanye-Stillwater is a $10 billion global mining company, with a proven track record in large-scale mining projects, and has committed to become an important player in the battery materials supply chain

The move will see the formation of a joint venture operating committee comprised of ioneer and Sibanye-Stillwater representatives will leverage the deep skillsets of both partners to help deliver the project. Sibanye-Stillwater and ioneer will work collaboratively to secure debt financing for the Project on acceptable terms to ensure the Project is appropriately fully financed to production.

Proceeds from the Sibanye-Stillwater Placement will be used towards ioneer’s development capital requirement, medium term working capital needs and to progress long-lead items to minimise time to production James Calaway, Executive Chairman of ioneer commented: “We are extremely pleased to welcome Sibanye-Stillwater, a leading international mining company, as a strategic partner in the Rhyolite Ridge Project. Sibanye-Stillwater, with its proven track record of developing and operating major mining projects including operations in the United States, its commitment to developing and maintaining an inclusive and sustainable culture, and its determination to become a major force in the battery materials supply chain, is an excellent partner for ioneer to jointly realize the promise of Rhyolite Ridge. With a strong strategic partner in place, we can now look to finalise the debt financing for the Project and move towards construction. We are confident in the alignment of our companies. Our partnership with Sibanye-Stillwater will allow ioneer to unlock the tremendous, long- term value of Rhyolite Ridge.”

Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater commented: “This is Sibanye-Stillwater’s second lithium transaction and third transaction in the battery metals sector, which will be essential for the transition to a cleaner future. We are excited to build a long-term relationship with ioneer, who share our vision of facilitating security of lithium supply to the North American markets. Rhyolite Ridge is a world-class lithium project and we recognise its strategic value, with the potential to become the largest lithium mine in the US. We look forward to working collaboratively with the ioneer team and leveraging our complementary skills and capabilities to ensure this strategically important, world-class project is delivered, and materially contributes to reducing climate change”

ioneer will contribute the Project for a 50% interest in the newly created joint venture limited liability company and Sibanye-Stillwater will provide $490 million in direct funding to the project for 50% of the ordinary units in JVCo. ioneer will be the operator of the project, will enter into a management services agreement with JVCo and will be responsible for the development and subsequent operation of the project.

The companies will establish a Technical Committee which will meet regularly to oversee the operations of the project and an ESG Committee which will collaborate on key initiatives given the importance of ESG to both parties. In addition, the companies have agreed to establish a marketing committee to leverage each company’s existing relationships to maximise the value of JVCo’s products.

Establishment of the Joint Venture and Sibanye-Stillwater’s funding commitment is subject to certain terms and conditions precedent, including receipt of final permits, commitments for remaining debt financing, and other customary approvals. ioneer anticipates these conditions precedent to be satisfied during the during second half of calendar year 2022. The JVCo transaction is not subject to shareholder approval and is not conditional on ioneer shareholders approving the placement of shares to Sibanye-Stillwater under the Sibanye-Stillwater Placement.

Electric drive Cat® D11 XE brings new power and efficiency levels to mine dozing

MINExpo 2021 affords the mining industry the opportunity to see the future of efficient, productive and sustainable dozing with a preview of the new Cat® D11 XE dozer. Leveraging 20-plus years of Cat electric drive experience and field application, the D11 XE dozer’s electric drive system delivers constant power to the ground, continuous pushing and greater manoeuvrability for faster cycle times and improved fuel efficiency.

Combining optimum power to the ground with increased durability and ease of service, the D11 XE Cat says delivers the lowest cost per tonne operation in dozing applications. When in production, this Cat model will be the world’s largest, most powerful and efficient electric drive dozer with high drive.

Promising low emissions-per-ton dozing, the D11 XE targets up to 25% less fuel costs per BCM. The fresh design targets up to 20% longer engine rebuild cycles than mechanical drive models, while 60% fewer moving parts translates to better machine uptime availability.

The D11 XE fully integrates Cat powertrain, Cat electronics, Cat software and Cat controls for optimised performance. Inherent machine protection reduces component damage for improved reliability. Its updated electronics architecture allows the dozer to take advantage of proven Cat technologies like MineStar™ Command for dozing, which offers both remote control and semiautonomous dozing.

The new dozer’s modular design simplifies maintenance through improved serviceability of the powertrain. Fewer moving parts translates to fewer touches required to maintain the dozer and lower service costs. This electric drive dozer also shares components with mechanical drive models, meaning familiarity for service technicians and fewer parts to stock for owners.

“With a powertrain life targeted to deliver longer rebuild intervals, the simple machine design delivers less major component rebuilding and/or replacing. Longer rebuild cycles, lower fuel consumption and less maintenance come together with higher machine efficiency to give owners the lowest cost of bank cubic meters (BCM) of material moved ever.”

The D11 XE is currently operating at Caterpillar’s dozer proving grounds in Peoria, Illinois, and will then complete an extensive field validation plan before entering full production.

Rio Tinto to work with Cat to deploy 35 new design 793 zero emissions & autonomous trucks at Gudai-Darri mine

Rio Tinto and Caterpillar have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Caterpillar’s development of zero-emissions autonomous haul trucks for use at one of Rio Tinto’s Western Australian mining operations.

The collaboration will see Rio Tinto work with Caterpillar to advance the development of the manufacturer’s future 220 t 793 zero-emissions autonomous haul truck including the validation of Caterpillar’s emerging zero-emissions technology. Rio Tinto and Caterpillar will progress a series of development milestones to include a 793 prototype pilot program, testing and pre-production trials.

It is anticipated that the world’s first operational deployment of approximately 35 new Caterpillar 793 zero-emissions autonomous haul trucks will be at Gudai-Darri once development is complete. Gudai-Darri is Rio Tinto’s most technically advanced iron ore mine, in the Pilbara, Western Australia

Rio Tinto’s Chief Commercial Officer Alf Barrios said: “Our ambition to reach net zero emissions across our operations is a priority. Reaching this ambition will require new and innovative solutions and partnerships with supplier partners like Caterpillar. This collaboration represents a small but important step on that journey. We look forward to working together to validate these zero-emissions haul trucks in just a few years’ time. The advanced technology at Gudai-Darri puts it at the forefront of new mining operations globally and we look forward to adding Caterpillar zero-emissions haul trucks to the site.”

Caterpillar Group President Denise Johnson said: “The integration of autonomy with a zero-emissions fleet demonstrates Rio Tinto’s commitment to reach net zero emissions. By leveraging these technologies across their sites, Rio Tinto can more safely increase productivity, efficiency and be more sustainable. We are pleased to be part of Rio Tinto’s sustainability journey and look forward to building on our long-standing collaboration.”

In June, Rio Tinto announced it would deploy the world’s first fully autonomous water truck at Gudai-Darri, which will also be produced by Caterpillar. Rio Tinto is assessing multiple project scopes for Gudai-Darri Phase 2 as part of an ongoing $44 million pre-feasibility study.

Mining’s glide path to zero emissions

As MINExpo 2021 opened, Paul Moore sat down with Denise Johnson, Caterpillar Group President, and Brian Weller, Chief Engineer and General Manager, Resource Industries Electrification, talking everything from helping customers hit carbon reduction targets to the challenges and opportunities of combining battery haulage with autonomy 

Has the speed at which mining companies are looking to cut their Scope 1 emissions, with significant fixed reduction targets by 2030, taken Caterpillar by surprise?  

DJ: We have been talking for a number of years to the mining companies about zero emissions targets over the longer term but with no hard dates established at the time we started talking. There have been several related initiatives since then – notably the ICMM’s Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles (ICSV), that has involved the major OEMs including ourselves as well as a number of the major mining companies. These initiatives have looked at GHG reduction but also areas like collision avoidance and DPM reduction underground. But the crystallisation of fixed dates you mention from the major mining houses over the last 12-18 months created much more of a roadmap to which we had to put hard development targets on – and also I think accelerated our roadmap. It gave us more clarity on the path forward and when you make commitments to investors as these companies have, they have to deliver on those reductions. Then you start to break down what pieces make up that reduction – and its not just mobile equipment – but certainly for most large mining sites, the big trucks are a meaningful portion, particularly when just looking at Scope 1 emissions. Then you start to focus in on what is it that needs to change first and you can prioritise the development process.

Your recent agreement with BHP focuses on battery truck development – are you still taking an agnostic future powertrain approach? And the statement said they will have early access to Cat zero emissions equipment – can you expand on what that means? 

BW: When you’re evaluating new machines and technology platforms, you have to understand your site energy source. We have done enough analysis that has shown that the solution is highly dependent on the individual project and site in terms of the machines being used and the application. There are project examples where running a hydrogen fuel cell powered fleet represents the best value in terms of competitive TCO. But I could take the same truck for a different application in a different part of the world, and this is no longer the case. So the solution you will see will have different energy sources depending on the product and where it is going to go. There are examples where fuel cells will be a higher cost to run than battery electric and vice versa.

DJ: Infrastructure is the big variable. A particular project may be in a part of the world that does not have access to renewable energy or even access to a grid. They may have a different energy profile for the minesite itself that lends itself to a particular mobile fleet power source. Plus the cost of energy changes from region to region.

BW: On power agnostic if you mean that we are open to a number of future power solutions – battery and hydrogen being two, but also others – then yes we are open to multiple options depending on what the customer needs. The customers are on what I like to call a glide path. They have a stack of carbon generating sources – everything from forklifts in the maintenance shop to the conveyors and the trucks. Every single minesite has to look at where carbon is being produced and then decide over time when to replace it and with what technology. That recipe is very unique to that site, location, asset base and life of mine.

DJ: There are also examples where customers are using bio fuels today to get them part of the way to their interim carbon reduction goals.

BW: On the early technology access point, with emissions reduction, we like to refer to four parts – people, process, infrastructure and technology. The infrastructure part is so significant in terms of the learnings that have to happen within a minesite, it is almost as large as those for us on the truck development side whether you are talking about safety protocols, how you will charge, how you will deal with energy swings. So given this, it makes sense for mining companies to have access to early machines so that they can begin making that journey.

DJ: With the exception of a few early pilot units, we traditionally would wait until we are in factory production before putting iron on a customer site. This is going to be a little different – because of the significance of the infrastructure issue. But autonomy also required major change management and learnings which was achieved – and this will be the same. Doing this together with the mining customers allows us both to learn together and to learn faster.

Can Stage V engines, trolley assist, dual fuel and other approaches give customers the medium term emissions cuts they are looking for before we get to all battery trucks for example? 

BW: It goes back to the customer glide path and the right recipe for carbon reduction that is very site specific. One customer may have an application where they can put trolley in effectively, another may not – it is very site specific. The same applies to biofuels and LNG. This is why you are seeing so much variation in how mines are proceeding because the solution is often so unique to a project and site. And saying that one technology will get the whole industry there is unrealistic. It is more a series of steps that will be taken. Look at electric shovels – most diesel hydraulic shovels today have a tethered electric option. And more customers are now looking to use that. I would say the technologies you mention are not just an interim step – they are part of the zero engine emissions pathway. On Stage V engines, it is important to clarify these are mainly reducing things like NOx and PM – whereas something like battery or trolley is very focused on carbon reduction.

How do we make things like battery charging compatible with autonomous mining?  

DJ: Actually this is one of the really exciting parts of showing what technology can do. Think about a traditional truck with a driver – they will look at how much diesel fuel they have and generally, a tank is enough for three shifts or 24 hours. As you move to electric – you need to charge those trucks much more frequently. You are in a position where, depending on where you are on the minesite, you may not get back to a charging station and the truck will get stuck. The layer of technology to know where you are in your battery level as well as where you are in the haul cycle is critical.  Technology is the key to optimise battery performance, battery life, and production. And we have conversations every day with mining customers on these sorts of issues. Autonomy is going to be a part of the future for almost all major mines as well as many of the smaller ones, so it will go hand in hand with electrification.

You have gone with a mobile charger strategy with underground equipment – are you also looking to mobile options for surface mining? 

BW: Absolutely – because the face of the mine is constantly moving, so you will have to move the chargers at some point. Some mines may also look to battery charging via trolley. There are a number of methods including static or dynamic charging. With trolley charging of a battery, you are using it either to displace the energy running through the battery or for charging the battery. It is just a question of how am I getting energy on board and if there is an opportunistic way to do it, then mines will do it. But remember, with trolley you still have to put that infrastructure in with substations and cabling. The mobile chargers will be the same and fast charging to keep these trucks running will require significant energy so substations will be needed here too. Think about the cabling and substations that work today with large rope shovels which have to be moved – this will happen with truck chargers too.

Will robotic charging also make sense in terms of autonomy extension? 

BW: You want the charging to be safe, fast and efficient. If a robotic arm or other similar system can be made to work efficiently then of course it would be preferred – in the same way some mines are already running robotic diesel fuelling today.

Does Caterpillar have a prototype all battery truck or FCEV truck running today at your test facility?   

DJ: Talking underground – we have battery electric R1700 XE units running right now at customer sites. On large mining trucks, we have significant development work underway and will have customers to the Tucson Proving Ground next year to see our integrated solutions in person, including prototype large mining trucks.

BW: Caterpillar’s design philosophy is to do a lot of analysis and simulation first. Then we do the component level. Actually, putting the truck together isn’t the hardest part. We are spending very significant time on software, components and systems.

Do you see a period during which “new power” trucks will have to coexist with conventional trucks as new technology is phased in?  

DJ: Aside from some greenfield projects there will be a phased introduction where mines have large existing fleets. So yes, the new power trucks will coexist for some time at many mines with conventional trucks – they will be “feathered in” if you will.

BW: Coming back to the infrastructure point – it is such a big part of this. The customer may say we have the capability to run a certain number of all electric trucks today based on the site energy profile. They may want to run them in a particular part of the mine first – which is common with autonomy introduction but in the case of electric, they may do it, so they don’t have to have a lot of chargers in the main part of the mine from the outset.

Will fleet management systems have to change to allow for new power trucks? 

BW: Of course, and we have the intention to do that with MineStar but also with Command for hauling. Think about the amount of information you are going to need from a battery powered truck for example. We like to talk about the ACE concept – autonomy, connectivity and electrification. There is no point in coming up with a spot solution for one small part of it. The technology allows us to do things we could never do before when these key technology offerings are fully integrated with the iron. You might have a minesite that has a downhill haul that over time will become a flat haul and then will become an uphill haul from deeper in the pit. Those changes will also change how much energy is used and how it is used depending on where the mine lifecycle is.

DJ: Each site is going to be unique not only in the equipment and power source used but also in the solutions that will unfold relating to ACE. Until now the equipment has been put in and the customer largely decides how to marry it with their mine plan and schedules to optimise the mine. For these new power sites, the approach will be customised depending on the particular recipe that is suited to that mine. They might even have the same hardware, but a different connectivity and software approach – how it is all knitted together.

Will your agreement with Nouveau Monde Graphite be a big step in learning as one of the first greenfield zero emissions mines? 

DJ: It’s a really exciting project and we are happy to be leveraging it to help us learn across our organisation. Plus its more than just about the mobile equipment at this site – we are also bringing in a lot of solutions to support the infrastructure from our Energy and Transportation segment. It is a hydro powered project, so it is all renewable. How do you make sure that all the energy transfer across the site is done in a way that allows them to optimise their mining processes? So we are really leveraging a broad section of the Caterpillar company – beyond just the mining specific part, to provide holistic solutions for NMG. And we see that as a real competitive advantage versus other OEMs.

What’s your current view on the market moving to “swarms” of smaller trucks with the focus moving away from ultraclass? And what about going cabless? 

DJ: We run a lot of simulations on the tradeoffs between truck size classes. When evaluating larger fleets of smaller trucks as a viable alternative – it is very dependent on how the mine is set up. For a brownfield mine that has traditionally run 400 ton class trucks, putting in swarms of small trucks is probably not going to align with the loading tools in place – the mine hasn’t been designed around smaller trucks. If you are starting from scratch with a greenfield mine and you optimise the mine based on smaller trucks then potentially it could be the lowest cost, most productive solution. But you have to look at it site by site.

BW: That’s right, and it is also highly dependent on the material you want to move – think about the size of the rock – what’s the rock fragmentation like? What is the bench height? What type of rock formation do I have? What is the ration of ore to waste? When you really think about what’s the right size truck – and that’s a question we get all the time – there’s over 40 variables you have to think about. There is a right size truck – but its for that site.

DJ: On cabs, I do see cabless coming in the future. Currently one reason for keeping the cab is to allow the autonomous truck to be driven manually, like around a truck shop. But there are other ways of moving the truck such as with remote devices. And when you think about the weight of the cab and the complexity of providing all the features for the operator environment – if you know the future is going to be all autonomous then eventually you get there with no cabs. It’s just the transition time.

Do you see a future of autonomous mining shovels and does Cat have an active program in this regard? 

DJ: We do have development of teleoperated and autonomous shovels ongoing and its part of our roadmap, but it hasn’t been a priority for our customers. In addition, we look at what advantage does it bring from a productivity perspective. It has potential from a safety perspective – some shovels operate in more challenging conditions. But because automation in other areas drives a much higher return for the customer, we have focused our development on our customer’s priorities.  Take, for example, the autonomous water truck we are doing right now with Rio Tinto at Gudai Darri. Optimising water delivery improves productivity while reducing overwatering. For shovels, our focus has been more around operator assist and getting the semi autonomous advantage from the shovel movement in and out of the face.

Do you see autonomy moving more towards onboard edge computing and AI – where the trucks become more able to react to situations themselves? 

DJ: We already have a significant amount of computing power on the truck and continue to make updates to our existing platform. We are also making investments in additional platforms for autonomy. It is a combination of bringing more value onto the machine but also considering cost. We want to hit the sweet spot of faster computing, plus have more peer-to-peer machine interaction as well.

Komatsu mining customers surpass 4 billion tonnes hauled autonomously milestone

Marking another industry first for autonomous haulage, mining companies have now hauled more than four billion metric tonnes of materials leveraging Komatsu’s FrontRunner Autonomous Haulage System (AHS). The milestone was achieved just in advance of Komatsu’s participation at MINExpo 2021, opening today in Las Vegas, Nevada.

To help mines move material more efficiently, Komatsu worked closely with its customers to develop the first commercially available autonomous haulage system. First deployed in 2008 at Codelco’s Gabriela Mistral (Gaby) copper mine in Chile, AHS brings together Komatsu ultra-class dump trucks with Modular Mining’s DISPATCH Fleet Management System. Now with 14 years of commercial operation, zero system-related injuries have been reported.

Today’s FrontRunner system operates around the clock, supporting customers hauling copper, iron ore, oil sands, and coal at 13 active sites across three continents. As of September 2021, Komatsu has over 400 trucks commissioned with its autonomous system.

“It has been gratifying to help customers save hundreds of millions of dollars while autonomously moving another billion metric tons of essential minerals,” said Anthony Cook, Vice President of Autonomous Systems, Komatsu. “Our customers’ continued investment in the technology and equipment to transition to autonomous haulage supports the evolution of mining methods and opportunity for advancements in safety and production.”

Supporting customers’ transition to autonomy, the FrontRunner system is designed to enable manually operated equipment (such as loaders, dozers, graders, light vehicles, etc) to seamlessly interact in an autonomous truck environment. Komatsu has system functionality that enables manual haul trucks to operate with autonomous trucks.