Tag Archives: AHS

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.

Anglo weighs up use of autonomous haul trucks at Dawson coal mine

Anglo American says it has commenced a study to determine the feasibility of an Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) for a portion of its truck fleet at its open-pit Dawson coal mine, in central Queensland, Australia.

The detailed study to replace 23 trucks with an AHS at Dawson will be finalised towards the end of this year, at which point a decision will be made about whether to proceed, Anglo said.

The timing of the Dawson study is aligned to a key decision on whether to undertake major overhauls on the ageing Cat 797 fleet or replace them, according to Anglo.

Operations at Dawson are made up of three operating pits; North, Central and South. First mined in 1961 for export coal to Japan, it was the first mine to introduce draglines into its operation in 1963, according to Anglo.

Each year, Dawson produces coking, soft coking and thermal coal, using open pit and highwall mining methods. Coal is railed to Gladstone for export to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India.

Chief Executive Officer of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, Tyler Mitchelson, said while no decisions had been made regarding the feasibility of the project, Anglo was conscious of the need to minimise the impact on its workforce.

“We’ve informed our workforce that, if the project proceeds, we would work through redeployment options for impacted employees and there would also be new roles created, leading to training opportunities,” Mitchelson said.

“We also understand the importance of locally-based employment to our communities, and we have reinforced to our community stakeholders that if the project proceeds, our intent is to protect local jobs and continue to undertake measures to encourage people to live locally.”

While AHS has been in use at other mining operations for many years, the technology has now progressed to the stage where Anglo American is assessing the “feasibility of operationalising it in open-pit coal mining”, the company said.

In addition to Anglo, Whitehaven Coal is trialling AHS with partner Hitachi at its Maules Creek operation in northwest New South Wales, Australia.

Anglo’s Mitchelson said the study was part of Anglo American’s FutureSmart Mining™ approach, which applies innovative thinking and technological advances to address mining’s major challenges.

“Anglo American has been at the forefront of embracing innovation to drive the next level of mine performance. This study will focus on whether an AHS has economic and practical application for our Dawson mine, in support of its journey to become a safer and more sustainable mine.”

Mitchelson explained that the company’s study is being run in parallel with a process to assess potential AHS providers.

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

RNC Minerals studying trolley assist, automation at Dumont nickel-cobalt project

The latest feasibility study on RNC Minerals’ jointly-owned Dumont nickel-cobalt asset in Quebec, Canada, has identified the potential for both electrification and automation of the open-pit haulage fleet at the project.

The DFS, completed by Ausenco, showed that initial nickel production at Dumont could come in at 33,000 t/y, before ramping up to 50,000 t/y in a phase two expansion. This would result in some 1.2 Mt of nickel in concentrate output over the 30-year life, with an initial capital expenditure estimate of $1 billion.

This initial investment would be paid back with a $920 million after-tax net present value (NPV, 8% discount) and 15.4% post-tax internal rate of return, factoring in a nickel price of $7.75/Ib (>$17,000/t) and a US$/C$ exchange rate of 0.75, the company said.

Dumont, as envisaged in the DFS, would use conventional drilling and blasting, with loading by a combination of hydraulic excavators and electric rope shovels into trucks ranging in size from 45 t to 290 t. The process plant will be constructed in two phases. Phase one will have an initial average throughput of 52,500 t/d using a single SAG mill and two ball mills for grinding, desliming using cyclones, conventional flotation and magnetic separation, to produce a nickel concentrate also containing cobalt and PGEs. Phase two throughput will be doubled to 105,000 t/d in year seven by mirroring the first line.

Around 42 Mt of overburden will be pre-stripped prior to start-up of operations. The life-of-mine plan excavates 2,100 Mt of material, including 1,000 Mt of ore, over an open-pit life of 24 years. After open-pit operations cease in year 24, 398 Mt of stockpiled ore will remain to support continued production through year 30.

One of the noticeable changes to the previous feasibility study from 2013 was the electrification of the fleet in the mine plan.

The company, which jointly owns Dumont with Arpent Inc, currently plans to increase the electrification of Dumont by incorporating trolley assist on the planned main ramps. RNC said this will reduce cycle times, and reduce diesel consumption by over 35% (approximate reduction of 450 million litres over the life of mine), which, in turn, will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1.2 Mt of CO2 equivalent, the company said.

And, among three “additional upside opportunities” listed in the DFS highlights was the use of haulage automation, which could potentially improve the NPV by some $75-115 million, the company estimated.

RNC said: “As autonomous equipment has been employed in open pits for over a decade and the global fleet currently approximates a combined 400 units of haul trucks and blasthole drills, automation is rapidly becoming proven technology.”

As a result, the company engaged an industry expert, Peck Tech Consulting, to assess the suitability of Dumont for automation.

“Based on Peck Tech’s prefeasibility-level assessment, the implementation of an Autonomous Haulage System could reduce the peak truck fleet by 20% and reduce site-wide all-in sustaining costs by over 3%,” RNC said.

“Further potential could be achieved with an Autonomous Drilling System (ADS),” the company added, saying it is continuing discussions with various mining equipment suppliers to understand the impacts and benefits in greater detail.

BHP looking at wide-scale haul truck automation in WA iron ore, Queensland coal

BHP is currently weighing up a project to automate around 500 haul trucks across its Western Australia Iron Ore and Queensland Coal sites, according to a strategy briefing presentation delivered by Chief Financial Officer, Peter Beaven.

Under a list of “projects in feasibility” in the appendices of Beaven’s presentation, the mining major detailed a staged haul truck automation plan that could cost less than $800 million to deliver, with the first of several investment decisions expected this year.

BHP already has automated haul trucks running around its Jimblebar iron ore mine in Western Australia, with the operation going fully autonomous at the end of 2017, but it has not rolled out the autonomous haulage systems (AHS) for haulage across its iron ore portfolio like peers Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group. This latest project, on top of what CEO Andrew Mackenzie said back in February, hints it could do so in the future.

In terms of the delivery of the project, BHP said it was estimating a staged rollout between 2020 and 2023, with AHS decisions made on a “site by site” basis.

Mine automation starting to take hold, RFC Ambrian says

In its second report in a series on innovation and new technology in the mining industry, RFC Ambrian has tackled the subject of autonomous mining equipment, which, the authors say, has reached an “important level of maturity”.

The report considered both surface and underground equipment, but most notably surface mine haulage trucks where there has been an area of significant focus for major mining companies.

As the authors said: “This has reached an important level of maturity, although it is still evolving and its penetration across the industry is still in its infancy.”

AHS

The Autonomous Haulage Systems (AHS) have evolved from improvements in GPS for positioning and navigation, developments in sensors and detection –particularly radar and LiDAR, improved computing power and on-board monitoring, faster and more reliable networks and internet connection, and the development of effective and accurate algorithms and software, the authors said.

“AHS has appeared , first, at large mine operations where the benefits have the largest impacts, due to the high component of fixed costs in an AHS operation, and in developed countries where there is a shortage of skilled workers and labour costs are higher,” they said.

Outlining the potential benefits of AHS is straightforward, but finding hard data to support it is more difficult, according to the authors.

“Companies have made suggestions about the scale of improvement, but they are light on detail, definitions are not clear, and the data varies between companies,” the authors said.

Suggested improvements in productivity have come from Caterpillar (15-20%), Fortescue Metals Group (30%), Komatsu (15%), and Rio Tinto (15%), according to the authors.

“These improvements are still meaningful, and corporate companies would argue that every mine is different and that the mining companies and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that have so far implemented AHS have the right to guard this proprietary information and hold on to the competitive advantage,” the authors said.

Autonomy in other surface equipment

The authors said they are also now seeing this same technology used to automate other operations in the surface mine. This includes drill rigs, dozers, loaders and ancillary equipment.

“Much of this equipment is currently, at best, semi-autonomous, although a few mines have implemented fully-autonomous drill rigs and dozers,” they noted.

“Moving this equipment to full autonomy offers significant production improvements, although the scale of actual savings is not likely to be as great as those achieved with AHS,” the authors said.

“However, we have not yet seen quantified the downstream benefits of the resultant improved drilling and blasting.

“The automation of earth moving machines provides another step to increased productivity within the mine. However, loaders face additional challenges as a result of the variability of the loading face and the risk of collisions with the haulage trucks.”

Due to the complex nature of the bucket-media interaction, developing automatic loading functions that are better than or equal to expert manual drivers with regard to performance is a highly difficult task, according to the authors.

“As a result, fully-autonomous loading is not yet commercially available. Some observers suggest that the implementation of fully-autonomous surface loading is still some five years away, while others believe that full automation is unlikely.”

Underground mining

When it comes to underground mining, the authors of the report said, as with surface mining, full autonomy remains the goal.

“Mining companies and contractors are constantly looking to use technological developments to better utilise their investment in equipment and human resources and improve safety,” the authors said. “Particular features of traditional underground mines are: long unproductive periods caused by re-entry times required for operators after blasting; and higher health and safety risks due to geotechnical and environmental challenges.

“The use of autonomy underground aims to increase the productivity of the equipment and improve the safety of the operators.”

While the aims remain the same, full autonomy in the underground mine is not as advanced as in the surface mine, according to the authors.

“Haul trucks are used less frequently in underground mines, although a few mines are using haul trucks with AHS. More underground mines perform a short cycle of loading, hauling and dumping from a draw point to a tipping point with LHD equipment.

“Implementation of autonomous systems underground for LHDs is occurring, however, as with surface loading, one of the major hurdles to automating LHDs is replacing human judgement required for filling the bucket.”

This has seen full autonomy being used for the hauling and dumping cycle, but semi-autonomy usually used for loading, according to the authors. “Successful trials of fully- autonomous LHDs have been achieved and Sandvik i-series now offers an automated bucket filling assistant as a standard function,” they said.

Underground drilling operations, meanwhile, are achieving increased levels of autonomy but are also presently only semi-autonomous.

Robotic rail operations

The authors then looked at autonomous rail haulage systems, a segment of the market that has gained in prominence in the past few years thanks to initiatives such as Rio Tinto’s AutoHaul in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

The authors said: “There has been some form of automation on worldwide metro systems for many years, but one area where autonomous technology has yet to gain a foothold is rail freight. Trials are underway in Holland and Germany but implementing autonomous train driving on a complex rail network, with passenger trains and freight trains, is more difficult than on a metro system.”

The one exception to this is in the mining sector and AutoHaul, they said, where Rio has completed commissioning of the world’s first fully-autonomous, long distance, heavy-haul rail network which is now in full operation.

Pace of implementation

Despite the acclaimed success and the relative level of maturity of the technology, the wider implementation of AHS does not appear to be happening very fast, the authors argue.

“The systems of both the two main suppliers (Caterpillar and Komatsu) are well proven and have delivered positive results, although, according to consultants, both systems also have examples of less-than-expected performance.

“Nevertheless, the technical issues appear relatively minor and there is interest right across the industry but, in spite of the potentially significant benefits, more mines are not now using AHS.”

There are a number of likely reasons for this, the authors said, explaining that one of the most important is a lack of skilled personnel.

“We believe there is a lack of in-depth knowledge of the technology and limited personnel with the requisite experience, skills, and training throughout the industry’s hierarchy,” they said.

“Further, there is a shortage of skilled autonomous operators, developers, and consultants, some of who are moving to the autonomous auto market.”

Important factors in the success of AHS appear to be the level of management commitment, planning, and focus in the implementation, with the best results reported from well-operated mining sites, the authors said.

“Another factor is likely to be limitations on equipment supply from OEMs for new equipment and truck conversions, either due to manufacturing backlogs or maybe market caution, limiting investment. This is allowing the OEMs to be more selective in their customers.”

The authors cautioned: “However, if the existing suppliers do not develop additional capacity quick enough this could create opportunities for additional entrants in to the market.”

Capital availability in the mining industry could also be an issue holding back AHS advancement, they said, although it is less tight than it has been in recent years.

“Certainly, some lower-margin operations might struggle to finance the capital, although the uplift in relative profitability could be transformational, with relatively quick paybacks,” they said.
And the historical conservatism of the mining industry is also likely to be a factor, the authors said.

“There is still a natural reluctance within the industry to adopt new or unproven technology due to the high capital cost involved and the potential operational and reputational risks involved.

“This will be compounded if the organisation has limited experience and limited access to the technology.”

You can read the full report here.

Whitehaven starts testing Hitachi autonomous haulage system at Maules Creek coal op

Whitehaven Coal confirmed in its half-year results that initial on-site testing of Hitachi’s autonomous truck haulage system has commenced at the company’s Maules Creek coal mine in northwest New South Wales, Australia.

The two companies, in July, published an official announcement of the automation tie-up, which entailed scoping the delivery and commissioning of phased Autonomous Haulage System (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.

In Whitehaven’s six-month results presentation, today, it said: “Work continues with Hitachi on the autonomous truck haulage system with initial on-site testing having commenced.”

Maules Creek produced 6.2 Mt of run of mine coal in the six months to end-December and is expected to meet guidance of 11.8-12.2 Mt ROM coal for the full year to end-June, 2019, according to Whitehaven.

The company also said the negative cost effects of longer hauls and increased elevation at Maules Creek – as the working area continues to be opened up – would be reversed in the medium term with “in-pit dumping, cast blasting and with the introduction of AHS”.

Komatsu’s FrontRunner autonomous haulage system and Nokia make mining LTE history

Komatsu America Corp’s FrontRunner autonomous haulage system (AHS) has achieved a mining industry first, after the system qualified to operate on private long-term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband technology.

This makes it the sector’s first AHS enabled to run on private LTE in commercial operations, paving the way for ultra-high system availability and reliability, while adhering to Komatsu’s renowned safety standards, the company said.

Komatsu’s FrontRunner AHS allows unmanned operation of ultra-class mining trucks. It delivers significant benefits, including reduced worker exposure to harm, protocols designed to constantly improve mine-site safety, reduced operating costs, and increased productivity and efficiency. The company completed a year-long qualification programme at the company’s proving grounds in Tucson, Arizona, conducting extensive testing of the FrontRunner AHS on Nokia’s Future X infrastructure, a leading provider of private LTE communication solutions for the mining industry.

Komatsu said: “Mining operators demand wireless networks with high-availability, seamless mobility, world-class quality of service, and the ability to support multiple applications and services simultaneously. Accordingly, the industry is moving away from less predictable wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, and towards private LTE networks, that improve security, capacity, and overall performance within a multi-application environment.”

Luiz Steinberg, Komatsu Global Officer and President/CEO of Modular Mining Systems, said: “This industry milestone represents a key step in Komatsu’s exploration of private LTE and highlights Nokia’s role as the leading global supplier of mission-critical solutions and services for the mining industry.

“As the leader in autonomous haulage technology, we are firmly on our way to helping the industry move the next billion tons of material with autonomous technology. We have come together with Nokia to further this vision of delivering increased value to the mining industry.”

Kathrin Buvac, President of Nokia Enterprise, said: “We are excited to be engaging the mining automation market with Komatsu, a powerhouse in the industry, to further highlight the benefits of Future X for mining companies as a strategic advantage in their operations.

“Private LTE is a key element in the Nokia Bell Labs Future X architecture to help industries, such as mining, create an intelligent, dynamic, high-performance network that increases the safety, productivity and efficiency of their business.”

Komatsu pioneered the first AHS for the mining industry with a commercial deployment in 2008 at Codelco’s Gabriela Mistral (Gaby) copper mine in Chile. In November, the company’s FrontRunner AHS system marked the movement of 2 billion tons (1.81 Bt) of surface material moved.