Tag Archives: AHS

Caterpillar hits 2 billion tonnes hauled milestone with autonomous haulage system

Caterpillar has again hit a significant milestone in autonomous haulage – achieving 2 billion tonnes hauled using Cat® MineStar™ Command for hauling.

The mining OEM’s autonomous haulage system (AHS) has doubled the amount hauled in the 16 months since reaching 1 billon tonnes hauled in November 2018, it said.

“In just a bit over six years, we’ve safely hauled 2 billion tonnes – a milestone we achieved significantly faster than our competitors,” Sean McGinnis, MineStar Solutions Product Manager, said. “This milestone makes Command for hauling the most productive commercially available solution, and it’s something mining people are noticing.”

Since commercially launching Command for hauling in 2013, Caterpillar has continued to improve the speed of implementation. “We’re launching Command on more sites and implementing it more quickly, so more of our customers can experience the safety and productivity gains that autonomous hauling delivers,” McGinnis said. In the company’s March quarter earnings call on April 28, Andrew Bonfield, Chief Financial Officer of Cat, said 282 trucks were running autonomously using Cat Command for hauling.

McGinnis credits input from Caterpillar customers for the success of Command for hauling. “One of the reasons that Caterpillar has been so successful in expanding Command and delivering results is because we listen to and partner with our customers. They identify features, functionality, and even the autonomous truck models they need for their operations.”

One of Cat’s latest AHS customers is Newmont’s Boddington gold mine, in Australia, which earlier this year announced it would become the world’s first open-pit gold mine with an autonomous haul truck fleet. This followed the signing of a deal with Caterpillar, which would involve adding some new AHS-enabled Caterpillar 793Fs to the haulage fleet and retrofitting some existing 793Fs with AHS capabilities, a Newmont spokesperson confirmed. In the same March quarter earnings call, Cat’s Bonfield said the company expected to start shipping the first of its new Cat 793F autonomous trucks to the miner next year.

Over the last six years, MineStar Solutions has also continued to grow its expertise in autonomous operations – not only in hauling but also with autonomous dozers, drills and underground loaders, the company said.

John Deselem, Global Autonomy Operations Manager, said: “The skills and knowledge of our MineStar team are unmatched in the industry. Beyond getting better at implementing the system, we’ve become trusted advisors for mine sites looking to take advantage of what autonomy makes possible. We listen to their needs, then work together to build the ideal solution for their mine.”

“The push toward autonomous mining doesn’t show any signs of slowing,” McGinnis said. “We have projects in the works with a number of large mining companies either looking to expand their current autonomous haulage operations or implement new ones.”

The Caterpillar autonomous fleet is made up of Cat 789D, 793D, 793F and 797F trucks, as well as a fleet of Komatsu 930Es. The Cat 794 AC electric-drive autonomous truck will be ready for autonomous haulage later this year. Command equipped trucks have driven over 67.6 million kilometers without a lost-time injury, according to the company.

“Command for hauling has proven its value to mining customers,” McGinnis said. “That value is reflected in the rate at which the Cat autonomous fleet achieved this milestone. The fleet is growing quickly and production continues to climb as mining companies benefit from greater truck productivity, increased truck utilisation, consistent truck operation, and reduced costs.”

Komatsu creates group focused on automation interoperability

To maximise the opportunities and potential that exists with furthering automation in mining, Modular Mining’s parent company, Komatsu, recently created the Komatsu Technology Interoperability Center of Excellence.

This group, based in Tucson, Arizona, focuses entirely on driving product strategy and developing roadmaps for technology and automation. Some of its recent work is geared towards an interoperability-focused ISO standard that, it says, will help make interoperability of automated equipment a reality.

Komatsu explained: “These in-development strategies and roadmaps aim to include the full range of mining equipment across all original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) within the Komatsu family, including both surface and underground equipment, and leverage the original technology manufacturers including Modular Mining, MineWare, and Immersive Technologies.”

The new Technology Interoperability group is focused on providing customers with a high-quality portfolio of state-of-the-art, integration-ready technologies and automated systems for all types of mining, according to Komatsu.

“The group’s vision centres on delivering innovative mine automation solutions that exceed customer expectations and provide a step change in safety and productivity,” it said. “Recognising that each mine has its own unique requirements and that customer operations span the various levels of being autonomous-ready, Komatsu is committed to developing solutions across the automation spectrum, including offerings specific to: truck spotting, assisted operation (including active blade control), autonomous drilling, and more.”

The pace of the technological evolution in the consumer world is driving mining’s evolution, Komatsu says.

“We’re seeing faster adoption of automation technologies and enablers at mining operations worldwide. Automation capabilities in the consumer automotive industry, including the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems that provide lane assistance and adaptive cruise control, are becoming standard systems on new cars. The underlying technologies of these automation capabilities, including controllers, sensors, algorithms, and artificial intelligence (AI), among others, are becoming more mature, thus opening opportunities for adoption into the mining industry.”

Effective mining automation solutions require interoperability, as most mines have a mixed fleet of equipment. To support that customer need, Komatsu says it is leading the development of an ISO standard that will help make interoperability of automated equipment a reality.

“Together with Modular Mining’s OEM agnosticism and a focus on both safety and sustainability, we are confident these standards will support the delivery of improved solutions to meet customer and societal needs,” the company said.

Many miners have started to digitalise their processes, but the greatest optimisation occurs when silos are collectively broken down, data is shared and solutions are integrated, the company says.

“To further this effort, Modular Mining is working towards integration with third-party technology partners, which will allow the company’s IntelliMine solutions and third-party systems (such as mine planning and payload monitoring systems, among others) to seamlessly share data with one another.

“Access to this previously unavailable third-party data will enable Modular Mining to streamline overall operational efficiency by enhancing the existing decision-making algorithms within a site’s IntelliMine technologies.”

The advances in industrial computing and algorithm developments also allow AI and machine learning to be pushed to the ‘edge’ of onboard equipment, enabling automatic identification and corrective action for previously unsolvable production, maintenance, and safety related problems, according to Komatsu.

“As the role of automation in the mining industry continues to increase, so too does the excitement from Komatsu’s Technology Interoperability group,” the company said. “In the past year, our teams have had the privilege of working with many customers and internal groups to develop a new strategy and roadmap that will help drive future offerings for our customers. We are excited to continue applying advanced technology, equipment, and services to help support the mining industry’s exciting and necessary evolution to meet the demands of society for the long haul.”

Whitehaven Coal hits automation milestone at Maules Creek mine

Whitehaven Coal says autonomous haulage operations have now commenced at its Maules Creek coal operation in New South Wales, Australia.

In its latest quarterly report to March 31, 2020, the miner said the autonomous haulage system (AHS) started up in the three-month period and autonomous haulage of overburden had commenced.

Back in July 2018, Hitachi Construction Machinery Co Ltd and Whitehaven announced the two had come to an agreement to implement the first commercial Hitachi autonomous truck fleet at Maules Creek. The collaboration between the two companies entailed scoping the delivery and commissioning of phased AHS deployment for the fleet of Hitachi EH5000AC3 trucks at Maules Creek and the establishment of the physical and technological infrastructure to support AHS capability.

At this point, the two companies said the AHS solution would leverage the fleet management system provided by Hitachi’s Wenco International Mining Systems subsidiary, in addition to Hitachi Construction Machinery’s Smart Mining Truck with Advanced Vehicle Stabilisation Controls using Hitachi robotics, AC motor and drive control unit technologies. The Blockage management system from Hitachi’s railway business would also play a role in this solution, as would a sensing technology and navigation system developed in Hitachi Group’s automobile industry segment.

Initial on-site testing of Hitachi’s AHS took place last year and the company has since been ramping up these tests to reach the commercial deployment stage.

As planned, a fleet of six EH5000 trucks and one excavator (an EX3600) started operation last month, Whitehaven said. During the current quarter, additional labour resources will be trained and deployed to allow for seven-day operation of AHS by end of June, according to the miner.

At an investor day presentation in September 2019, Whitehaven Coal Chief Operating Officer, Jamie Frankcombe, said following a six-month period of operating the initial fleet, a transition to one EX8000 excavator and nine EH5000 trucks could occur. Then, additional EX8000 fleets would be added in six-monthly intervals based on “performance gateway” achievements, with a target of five fleets and up to 45 trucks within three years.

This ramp-up of automation comes at the same time Maules Creek is being expanded, with Whitehaven expecting production to go from 11.7 Mt run of mine (ROM) in the year ended June 30, 2019, to 16 Mt/y of ROM coal.

Modular Mining continues to invest and expand in Tucson

Modular Mining has unveiled its new Customer Experience Center (CEC) during a ribbon cutting ceremony this week.

Located in the company’s corporate headquarters in Tucson, Arizona, USA, the CEC’s opening coincides with Modular Mining’s 40th anniversary and celebrates the company’s continued growth and positive trajectory in both Tucson and the mining sector, Modular said.

Jorge Mascena, President & CEO, Modular Mining, said: “Our new Customer Experience Center is designed to showcase how mine management solutions can improve the safety, efficiency, and productivity of mining operations, and help our customers do so sustainably.

“Today’s announcement marks our third major renovation project in six years at this facility. Tucson is evolving into a key mining technology hub, and this expansion demonstrates our commitment to leading this transformation as a long-term member of this community.”

Established in Tucson in 1979, Modular developed the DISPATCH® Fleet Management System for the mining sector. This technology was the first of its kind in the industry and continues to help improve productivity and efficiency for open-pit mines today, the company says.

The DISPATCH system’s global success served as the springboard for further innovation, including the ProVision® High-Precision Machine Guidance system, the MineCare® Maintenance Management system, and others. The company employs more than 800 people globally, with nearly 350 located in Tucson.

The company was purchased by heavy-equipment leader, Komatsu Ltd, in 1996, enabling Modular Mining’s technology to support the world’s first autonomous mining trucks.

The expansion of the CEC comes on the successes of other recent company expansions in Tucson. Komatsu’s Autonomous Haulage Systems Center of Excellence opened in June 2019, where a cross-functional team of personnel from both Komatsu and Modular Mining work together under the Komatsu umbrella to develop, sell, and support the industry-leading AHS. In 2014, Modular Mining expanded their corporate campus to include a building dedicated to the company’s research and development. That same year, Komatsu opened their new Arizona Proving Grounds in Sahuarita, Arizona; a facility largely used for research and development of Komatsu mining equipment and testing Modular Mining’s technologies.

Rio invests in new crusher, conveyor and autonomous trucks at WTS2 iron ore mine

Rio Tinto says it will invest $749 million in the Western Turner Syncline Phase 2 (WTS2) mine at its Greater Tom Price operations, in the Pilbara of Western Australia, facilitating mining of existing and new deposits and including construction of a new crusher as well as a 13 km conveyor.

In addition to this, the haul truck fleet at the mine will be fitted with Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology.

This investment will help sustain the production capacity of its world-class iron ore business, it said.

The new conveyor system at WTS2 will help lower greenhouse gas emissions from the mine by 3.5% compared with road haulage and the business is continuing to assess additional options to reduce emissions, including renewable energy solutions, it said.

Pending final government approvals, construction will start in the March quarter of 2020 with first ore from the crusher expected in 2021. Production of high-quality Brockman ore will support the company’s flagship Pilbara Blend, which continues to be the preferred base load product for China’s steel mills, Rio said.

The project is expected to deliver an attractive internal rate of return with a capital intensity of about $25/t of production capacity.

As part of the investment, the haul truck fleet at the mine will be fitted with Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology to enable autonomous haulage at WTS2 from 2021.

Rio said: “The ongoing deployment of autonomous haulage at the company’s Pilbara operations is delivering significant safety benefits as well as enhancing productivity and reducing costs.”

Approximately 50% of the company’s haul truck fleet will be capable of operating autonomously by the end of the year with plans being assessed to expand this in the years ahead.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive, Chris Salisbury, said: “Our iron ore business continues to deliver industry-leading margins as we drive performance from our mines. This significant investment in the Greater Tom Price hub is one of a pipeline of high-quality, low-cost options that will underpin production of our flagship Pilbara Blend product well into the future.”

The investment in the WTS2 mine will help sustain the current workforce at Rio Tinto’s Greater Tom Price production hub. Additionally, at its peak, the construction workforce is expected to number more than 1,000 people.

Komatsu becomes automation FrontRunner at Vale’s Carajas iron ore mine

Komatsu says it has won a contract that could see it deploy up to 37 930E ultra-class electrical dump trucks as part of an Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) at Vale’s Carajás iron mine, in Pará, Brazil.

The mining OEM says the deployment will help support Vale in its drive to leverage technology to reduce the impact on the environment and enhance health, safety and operational efficiency.

The news follows Vale, last month, announcing it would start trialling autonomous haulage at Carajás, following a successful deployment at its Brucutu iron ore mine in Minas Gerais. This would see the company run both autonomous and manned trucks at the operation, the world’s largest open-pit iron ore mine, the miner said.

Powered by Komatsu’s AHS FrontRunner technology, the initial deployment is expected to start this month, according to Komatsu, with the goal of operating 37 trucks autonomously by 2024.

To support the company’s transition to autonomy, Komatsu opened an AHS training centre (pictured) near the mine in August, which “provides operations and maintenance training to upskill local people on the new technologies being introduced at the mine, in support of human resource development”, Komatsu said.

Masayuki Moriyama, President of Komatsu’s Mining Business Division, said: “We are honoured to be part of the ongoing wave of technological innovation at Carajás, supporting Vale’s commitment to sustainability and helping make the mine a reference in environmental terms. We look forward to our continued work together to support the skill growth of local workers and ensure a successful deployment that is designed to increase the safety and productivity of this operation.”

With this latest deployment, Komatsu continues to expand its AHS business in South America. Komatsu says its customers, globally, are now leveraging AHS at 10 mine sites in four countries.

FMG’s Wallace warns miners of cyber security risks amid data rush

Gathering data presents enormous opportunities but also significant challenges, according to Fortescue Metals Group’s Head of Cyber Security, Mark Wallace.

Addressing delegates at the 6th International Mining and References Conference in Melbourne, Wallace said much of the industry is sitting on a “gold mine of data”, labelling it “the new strategic asset we need to focus our time on”.

Wallace said the iron ore miner is well positioned as a digital leader, describing the enormous data pulled from its fleet of 200 autonomous haul trucks as an example.

“Each truck has 250 sensors, generating about 91 billion events a month across our fleet. That works out to about 40 TB of data that we have to store, process, pull out the useful bits that we actually want to use and then work out how we’re going to retain this sort of information and control the quality over time,” Wallace said.

That data is already being used to incentivise equipment manufacturers, improve productivity and track performance across its assets, according to Wallace, but he told delegates the company is always looking for new ways to realise its value.

“We’ve found that there’s a new language across our business…Digital twins, robotics, AI, all these words are now spread across our organisation. And there really is a growing understanding across teams that they are now really reliant on data. The value of data has become really, really central.”

But the risks, Wallace said, are ever present, especially as the proliferation of electronic devices continues on its path of rapid growth.

He said the days of simply securing precious information behind a firewall are long gone and the widespread use of tablets, mobile phones, cloud technology and third-party contractors has blurred the lines when it comes to setting up security perimeters.

“The big issue from a mining point of view is what happens if one of these IoT devices actually goes rogue? How do we actually trust the data that is coming off those IoT devices?” Wallace said.

“How do we know that some rogue entity hasn’t just put that IoT sensor out there and is providing you with false information with the intention of damaging your plant or some sort of fraud that’s related to it.”

At the World Economic Forum earlier this year, cyber security-related issues were listed in the top three risks of doing business globally.

Wallace warned Australian companies are under constant threat, with attacks coming from a broader range of sources.

“We are seeing in Australia that there is a real focus in targeting critical infrastructure. These risks are real and we need to keep them in mind,” he said.

“There’s certainly a lot more hacktivists who are trying to disrupt our business. There is nation state-type attack and there’s a lot of financially motivated attacks.”

In closing, Wallace advised that when it comes to preserving its digital assets, the industry should focus on the crown jewels.

“We’ve got hundreds of different data assets that we use for different purposes but which of these assets is actually really important?” he said.

“Identify the crown jewels and focus most of your effort in those areas.

“Most companies that I talk to have 10 cyber incidents every month that they respond to so it’s not a matter of if but when. To respond to that, the real skill here is building resilience – so building that muscle memory within the organisation so that when something does happen, you can minimise the damage and move right along. “

Anglo American goes for truck overhaul ahead of automation at Dawson coal mine

Anglo American has taken the decision to overhaul the existing truck fleet at its Dawson open-pit coal mine in Queensland, Australia, following the completion of a study weighing the introduction of autonomous haulage systems (AHS) for a portion of the fleet.

The AHS study was timed to align with a key decision on whether to undertake major overhauls on the Cat 797 fleet (23 trucks), or replace them, a spokesperson for Anglo American said. The company announced the study back in June.

The spokesperson added: “Following the completion of the study, the decision has been taken to overhaul the existing fleet, rather than purchase new trucks and implement AHS at Dawson mine at this time.

“In the future, this decision will be revisited as we look to replace the fleet in a few years.”

While the study found that AHS do present opportunities to improve truck fleet performance, Anglo will be prioritising other measures to achieve safer and more productive operations at Dawson, in line with its productivity program and FutureSmart Mining™ approach, which applies innovative thinking and technological advances to address mining’s major challenges, the spokesperson explained.

“The accelerating pace of technological innovation, particularly in the areas of digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence, is opening up opportunities for the mining sector to be safer, more productive and sustainable,” the person said.

“In addition to our open-cut technology program, our scale as the largest underground coal miner in Australia provides us with the opportunity to leverage the development of technology in our operations, through initiatives including remote longwall operation from mine surface, and the development of our Australian-first electronic tablet device certified for use in underground coal mines, which was launched at our Moranbah North mine earlier this year.”

While Anglo has decided not to proceed with AHS at Dawson, Whitehaven Coal is currently in the process of trialling AHS with partner Hitachi at its Maules Creek operation in northwest New South Wales, Australia.

 

Truck & Shovel conference gains Singapore Mining Club support

The inaugural Truck & Shovel conference is now just over seven weeks away and the stage is set for an exciting event looking into the future of the global loading and haulage industry.

With topics such as automation, digitalisation, fleet management, and tyre and fuel optimisation on the agenda, there will be much to discuss at the 1.5-day event, taking place at the InterContinental Singapore, Middle Road, on September 19-20.

In addition to gaining the support of Komatsu Mining (Platinum Sponsor), Zyfra Mining (Gold Sponsor) and Mining Industry Professionals (Media Sponsor), IM Events is pleased to announce that the Singapore Mining Club has backed this global event.

Truck & Shovel 2019 will now be held in association with the Singapore Mining Club, an influential group that exists to promote development of Singapore as the pre-eminent regional hub for the management and financing of mining enterprises.

We chose Singapore for this global event for several reasons, including:

  • Many of the big mining companies have procurement and marketing hubs in this Asian metropolis;
  • It acts as a gateway through to key mining hubs such as Australia, India, China and Indonesia, and;
  • It has good transport links and an excellent reputation for event hospitality.

Taking place in Ballroom I and II of the InterContinental Singapore, this event has attracted a number of high-profile speakers that have masses of industry knowledge to share with delegates.

We plan to kick off the day with a keynote from Komatsu Mining’s Jason Knuth (Senior Manager – Data Solutions) and Simon Van Wegen (Product Manager – Data Solutions) on ‘Data-driven designs for dynamic mining environments’.

The duo, who have spoken at many high profile conferences around the world, are set to reveal how advanced mining original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are leveraging the plethora of data nodes on smart equipment to adapt equipment and design solutions for the modern mine environment.

Mikhail Makeev, Global Business Director, Zyfra Mining, is set to continue this digitalisation theme during his catchily-titled ‘How to make your mine “rock”’ presentation. The company has automation and fleet management expertise that it has applied across many mine sites, with Makeev keen to share details on these experiences.

Automation

For those focused on surface mining automation, Truck & Shovel tackles the concept from three different angles.

Drew Larsen, Director of Business Development, ASI Mining, will provide a business case for haulage automation with a presentation titled: ‘Autonomous Mining – more feasible than you might think’. The company, 34% owned by global mining OEM Epiroc, began work on a project with Barrick Gold to retrofit and automate a fleet of Komatsu 930-E Ultra Class haul trucks at the Arturo joint venture operation in Nevada, last year, and is expecting to issue news on projects with other miners in the near future.

Tony Cutler, Principal Consultant, OTR Global, will be tackling automation from a different stance in his ‘Factoring tyres into autonomous haulage’ presentation. Research from the leading mining OEMs offering autonomous haulage systems (AHS) indicates these systems have the potential to prolong tyre life, a claim Cutler will interrogate up on stage.

And Steve Russell, Director – Mining, Scott Technology Ltd, will be looking at autonomous refuelling in his talk. With a title of ‘Robofuel Robotic Refuelling – A safety and productivity initiative for the 21st Century Mine’, he will highlight case studies that showcase just how effective this process is in an open-pit mining context.

Equipment design and innovation

The look and feel of loading and haulage equipment hasn’t changed dramatically over the past few decades, but with mining companies and OEMs now receiving data in real time about how trucks and excavators are operating and interacting with each other, one would expect these design blueprints to, in the future, be altered in some way – for example Komatsu’s cabless haul truck concept.

Taking on this topic at the event will be Christopher B Althausen, Director of Sales & Marketing for Pioneer Solutions LLC, and Brad Rogers, CEO of Bis Industries.

Althausen’s presentation, ‘Mining truck design and development: challenges, hurdles and solutions’, looks at his and his company’s experiences approaching haul truck design over many decades. Rogers’ talk, meanwhile, focuses on ‘Innovation in minesite haulage’. With Bis Industries now having successful trials of its revolutionary Rexx haul truck in its back pocket, delegates will look forward to hearing all about the proven productivity benefits of using this 20-wheel machine.

Maximising payload

The first day of the event will finish with a packed session on truck bodies and excavator buckets where four speakers will highlight just how effective customised solutions can be in the open-pit mining environment.

Carl Samuelson, Global Business Support Manager, Metso Haul Truck Solutions, will talk about successes the mining OEM has had with its hybrid haul truck tray, the Metso Truck Body, while David Pichanick, Global Manager Market Development & Innovation, Austin Engineering, will reveal how thinking ‘outside the box’ and changing the way the company uses materials in dump bodies and buckets has had an impact on safety and productivity. Tom Smith, Engineering Manager at DT HiLoad, rounds out the truck body talk, presenting, ‘HERCULES: The Strongest Tray in Earth’.

Ian Cornfoot, Managing Director of G&G Mining, has the honour of closing day one with a presentation on the use of customised excavator buckets titled, ‘Moving Rocks Not Steel – “Productive innovations in earthmoving buckets”’.

Fuel efficiency and management

As has been well documented, fuel efficiency is key when it comes to open-pit mining, with optimised fuel selection and management often keeping the cost per tonne down.

This topic kicks off day two of the event, with Kevin Dagenais, CEO of Blutip Technologies, looking at the use of predictive modelling techniques to target mining inefficiencies in this space. Sean Birrell, Group Product Officer, FluidIntel, follows closely behind him on ‘Analytics opportunities in fuel and lubricant management – unseen risks & untapped value in your supply chain & operations’, with Joao Silveirinha, Chief Technology Officer of Banlaw, rounding out the fuel talk with a talk titled, ‘Digital Transformation and Automation as it relates to the management of Hydrocarbons in Mining’.

Safety and training

The last session of the conference is all on safety and training, with two speakers keen to talk up the benefits of these in open-pit mining where accidents can cost lives and machines.

Daniel Bongers, Chief Technology Officer of SmartCap Technologies, will present, ‘Zero fatigue incidents achieved – moving to alertness monitoring’ in his 30-minute slot, with Graham Upton, Director of Business Development at simulator specialist, Doron Precision Systems Inc, following him with ‘Shovel and Truck, side-by-side Coordinated Training’.

For details of how to register for this event, or access the full program, please visit the website: https://im-mining.com/truck-and-shovel/

Please note, all company delegations of two or more people are entitled to a discount. Get in touch with Editorial Director, Paul Moore ([email protected]), or Editor, Dan Gleeson ([email protected]), for more information.

Anglo American’s FutureSmart Mining on its way to tangible technology results

“It’s clear that the pressures on us are unsustainable, whether it is around our carbon footprint, water footprint, or physical footprint, and we are always looking for different ways to push us in this future direction where our footprint will be very different.”

Tony O’Neill, Anglo American Technical Director, knows the company he works for is up against it when it comes to retaining its reputation as one of the world’s leading sustainable mining companies.

It’s clear from the company’s 2018 sustainability report – which saw it achieve a best-ever performance in terms of injuries, a cut in energy use and an increase in greenhouse gas emission savings – that Anglo is going down multiple paths to reach its goals. O’Neill, who joined the company almost six years ago, believes Anglo’s FutureSmart Mining™ programme will play a major role in confronting and overcoming many of the issues it (and the industry) is facing.

“If you look at FutureSmart Mining, at its absolute essence, it is about footprint; how do you change the footprint of mining? How do you have a mine that draws no fresh water? Mines without tailings dams? Mines that look very different?” he told IM.

“It’s getting people to believe there is a different way for mining in an industry that has, to this point, been quite traditional. It is not going to happen overnight, but I think we have a genuine vision that is, in my view, quite feasible.”

IM spoke with O’Neill and Donovan Waller, Group Head of Technology Development, this week to get to the bottom of how technology is making Anglo ever more sustainable.

IM: Could you explain how the Anglo operating model facilitates and fosters innovation within the context of FutureSmart Mining?

TO: The Anglo American operating model is the chassis that underpins everything, giving us certainty in the delivery of our work. When you have got that stability – and the lack of variability – in your business outputs, it is much easier to overlay new technologies and processes. When you then see a difference in operating or financial results, you can confirm it is down to what you have implemented, rather than the underlying processes.

I look at it a little bit like a three-legged stool: you have the operating model on one leg, the P101 benchmark-setting on another, and technology and data analytics on the third leg. They all co-exist in this system and work off each other. Without one, the stool falls over.

The operating model has given us a drumbeat of delivery, and we get the licence to innovate because of this drumbeat.

IM: Do you think FutureSmart Mining is starting to be understood and valued by investors?

TO: They’re awake to it now. I think it is still in the early stages of the story, but they can see what we are doing and the ambition behind it. Ultimately, it will result in a different investment profile, or more investors because of it, but I am not sure that it’s translated in full up to now. The recognition has been more around the general results of the company.

With all these technologies coming through – much of them driven by higher levels of data and the ability to interrogate that data – the vision we imagined way out into the future, I think, is a lot more tangible than when we started out four years ago.

IM: Out of all the tailings dam elimination work you are carrying out (around passive resistivity, fibre-optics, micro-seismic monitoring, coarse particle recovery, polymers, and dry stacking), which innovation will have an impact on Anglo’s operations in the next three-to-five years?

TO: All of them. We started out with our tailings programme in 2013; in fact, our group technical standards were re-issued at the beginning of 2014 and they are now one of the main guidelines the ICMM (International Council on Mining and Metals) uses.

Tailings dams have always been at the back end of the mining process and, in a way, the science behind them has never been part of the mainstream operation. Our view, internally for many years, is tailings dams are one of the industry’s greatest risks.

“Our view, internally for many years, is tailings dams are one of the industry’s greatest risks,” Tony O’Neill says

Ultimately our aim is to eliminate tailings dams. Period. Coarse particle flotation – getting that coarser particle size that drains much more freely – is core to that and you can see a development pathway there. For example, with some of these new flotation techniques, we now only need 1% exposure of the mineral for it to be effective. In the past, it was much higher.

When we upgraded the capability of our tailings organisation, it became clear we needed to get a lot more data off these tailings dams. About three years ago, we started putting fibre-optic sensors into the dams. We have since developed, through our exploration arm, passive resistivity seismic monitoring, which basically tells you where your water sits in the dams. And, we’re putting into Quellaveco micro-seismic measuring techniques, which will be more granular again. You can see the day coming really quickly where tailings dams are a real-time data source for mining companies.

We’re also, with our joint venture partner Debswana, building the first polymer plant in Botswana, which could have an impact on dry tailing disposal.

The thing we need to crack – both ourselves and the industry – is how to dry stack at scale. At the moment, that is still a work-in-progress, but it is doable in the long term.

IM: How is the bulk sorter you have operating at El Soldado, which is equipped with a neutron sensor, working? How has it made a difference to recoveries and grades at the operation?

TO: With the bulk sorter, we’re taking packages of tonnes rather than individual rocks to enable us to get both speed and volume. At El Soldado, we are sorting in four tonne packages. You can adapt the sorting profile by the characteristics of the orebody. We’re generally looking to sort tonnages that are less than you would put in a haul truck body or bucket.

If you step right back, in the past, most processing plants wanted to blend to get an average feed. We are going the other way. We want to use the heterogeneity of the orebody to its advantage; the less mixing we can get ahead of these sorting processes, the better it is for recoveries.

Being able to remove an orebody above the cut-off grade alongside waste tonnages and upgrade the latter has led to an effective lift in head grade. It has been enabled by new sensing technology with a particular type of neutron sensor.

What we have seen in early results has surprised us on the upside. We thought we would see a 5% uplift in head grade, but in fact we have seen about 20% – to qualify that, it’s in its early stages.

O’Neill says the bulk sorting trial at El Soldado has seen about a 20% uplift in head grade in its early stages

If you take this to its logical conclusion, you can see the day coming where you would cut the rock – no drilling and blasting – immediately sort the rock behind the machine cutting it and distribute said rock efficiently into its value in use; you don’t have stockpiles, you have plants sensing the material right through and adapting in real time to the change in mineralogy. I think there is another 3-4% increase in recovery in that whole process when we get it right.

Our sweet spot when we created FutureSmart Mining was always the orebody and processing plants, more so than automation (although that is part of the potential mix). That was different to a lot of the other players in the industry. This focus could lead to the development of different types of plants; ones that are flexible, more modular and you can plug and play.

IM: Do you see these type of neutron sensors being applied elsewhere across a mine site?

TO: Yes, through processing plants and conveyors. In fact, we’re preparing for this on conveyors right now.

What we have found with all this new technology is that, when we implement it, quite often another opportunity arrives. They end up playing off each other, and that is the context for the bulk sorting and coarse particle flotation.

IM: How have Anglo’s Open Forums played into these developments?

TO: We have held eight Open Forums on sustainability, processing, mining, exploration (two), future of work, energy and maintenance.

Out of those eight, I think we have got around 10,000 ideas from them. These forums have been specifically designed where only about a third of participants are from the mining industry, with the other two thirds coming from the best and brightest analogous industries we can tap into – automobile, oil & gas, food, construction, even Formula 1 racing and NASA.

The reality is that out of those 10,000 ideas, the success rate is about 1:1,000, but the one that makes it is quite often a game changer.

IM: Going back to the bulk sorters, am I right in thinking you plan to put these into Mogalakwena and Barro Alto too?

TO: The aim is to have them across our business. At El Soldado, the copper angle is very important. The technology – the sensing and using the data – is probably a touch more advanced in copper, but we are building one currently in our PGMs business at Mogalakwena and a bit behind that, but ready to be built, is one in nickel, yes.

In terms of our programme, you will see them spread across our business in the next, hopefully, 18 months.

IM: Where does your approach to advanced process control (APC) fit into the FutureSmart Mining platform?

TO: We want to have APC in some form across all our business by the end of this year. We have probably come from a little behind some of the other players in the industry, but we’re pushing it quite aggressively to give us the platform for data analytics. The upside we have seen just by putting the process control in so far has surprised me a bit – in a good way; power reductions, throughput, having this different level of control. All of it has been pleasing.

We spent about 12 months looking at the whole data analytics space to see how we were going to implement our solution. If you look around at the sector, everyone wants to be involved and profit share. If you add it all up, you could end up with not a lot of profitable pieces at the end. We have strategically chosen the pieces we think are important to us and our profit pool and have been happy to be a little looser on some of the non-core areas.

The other key plank to the APC is that we own the data. The reality is, in the new world, data is like a new orebody and we’re not willing to let go of that.

IM: Your Smart Energy project involving a haul truck powered on hydrogen has certainly caught the attention of the market: how did you come up with this innovation?

TO: Initially, we couldn’t make renewables work from an investment criteria perspective – it was always close, but never quite there. Donovan’s team then took an approach where they said, ‘forget the normal investment criteria. All we want to do is, make the business case wash its face.’ In doing so, it enabled them to oversize a renewable or photovoltaic energy source – the power plant – using that extra power to produce hydrogen and putting that hydrogen to use in the haulage fleet. Re-engineering the haulage fleet gave us the business outcomes we were looking for.

DW: These business cases bring you to temporary barriers. When you hit that temporary barrier, people normally stop, but what we said was, ‘OK, just assume it is not there and go forward.’ That brought the whole business case back again by looking at it differently again.

Anglo’s Smart Energy project is aiming to power a 300-t class truck with hydrogen fuel

IM: Where is this project likely to be situated within the group?

TO: We’re still not 100% fixed as the initial work will be done here (the UK). You are talking about quite specialist skills working with hydrogen.

When the system has gone past its initial testing, it will go to a site, probably in South Africa, but we are not 100% locked into that at this point.

IM: On the 12-month timeline you have given, when would you have to be on site?

TO: The infrastructure will be pre-built here in the UK. We’re effectively testing it here. In a way, the physical truck is the easy bit.

It’s going to be using a 300-t class truck. The guys have already done quite a bit of the detailed measuring and the design elements are well under way.

We’ve also taken the approach to use pre-approved technology, which Donovan can talk about.

DW: This minimises the risk on the first go and allows us to, later, tailor it. For example, if you don’t have a right sized fuel cell currently available off-the-shelf, you just use multiple standard-size fuel cells for now. Then, when you get into the final version you could tailor them into something more specific.

IM: On mechanised cutting, you recently mentioned the building of a “production-sized machine” for at least one of your mines in South Africa. Is this a variant of the Epiroc machine – the Rapid Mine Development System – you have been using at Twickenham?

TO: It’s the next generation of machines. It’s fair to say that, in the last 12 months, the technology has come to the point where we are confident it is viable.

What we’re looking for is a fundamental breakthrough where, for example, we can take the development rates up three or four times from what you would usually expect. That is what we’re chasing. It would involve some sort of pre-conditioning of the rock ahead of the cutting, but the cutting, itself, works.

For us, mechanised cutting is a real solution to some of the safety issues we have had on our plate. Regardless of whether it goes into South Africa or another underground mine, we see it as a key part of our future underground design and operation.

IM: What type of rock pre-conditioning is this likely to be?

TO: I think around the world, people are looking at electricity, microwave, laser, a whole suite of things. None of them have yet quite landed, but they all have potential.

IM: Where does haul truck automation fit into the pipeline for Anglo American?

TO: All the equipment we buy, going forward, will be autonomous-capable, which means we can run it in either format (manned or unmanned). You are then left with a number of decisions – have you got the design to retrofit automation? Is there a safety issue to be considered? Is there a weather issue to contend with? There are a whole series of gates that we’ll take it (automation projects) through.

It’s good to go back to P101 here. Where P100 is getting all of our key processes to world-class benchmarks, P101 is about establishing a new benchmark. By definition, if you get your operations to that point, the gap between that manned performance and autonomous performance is not that great.

Autonomy is part of our future armoury, but when and where and how, we’ll have to wait and see. For example, we are currently looking at the option of autonomous haulage trucks at one of our open-cut mines in Queensland.

When you look at our portfolio of operations, it’s often a more complex environment than when you are just working in the wide open Pilbara.