Tag Archives: Automation retrofit

Autonomous trucks arrive on time at BHP’s Newman East mine

As expected, the first fleet of autonomous trucks have arrived at BHP’s Newman East mine site with full roll out to be complete by September.

Home to BHP’s Innovation Centre, the Newman East mine will be the second of the company’s Western Australian mines to transition to fully autonomous haulage with 20 autonomous trucks due on site before the end of the year, BHP said. The first was the Jimblebar iron ore mine in the state, which transitioned in 2017.

The existing fleet of Cat 793s would be retrofitted with autonomous haulage systems, BHP previously explained.

BHP’s Newman Operations General Manager, Marie Bourgoin, said the transition would advance BHP’s technology strategy while also creating 41 new, permanent roles and investing A$33 million ($23 million) in contracts with Western Australian businesses.

“We recognise how important it is for BHP to partner with local and small businesses, particularly as we move into a post-COVID economic recovery phase,” she said.

“We are pleased to have been able to offer A$33 million in contracts to WA vendors for a range of work packages including autonomous conversion kits, trailers, training content development, and a number of engineering and construction packages.

“We know our success will be strengthened when we work together with local people and businesses. We will continue to explore further local initiatives as autonomous haulage rolls out, and beyond.”

Bourgoin said there were no redundancies as part of the transition and more than 300 people in the Newman operations workforce were undergoing training and upskilling to work on an autonomous haulage site.

“We have created new control centre and roles, which many of our truck operators have transitioned into, as well as new opportunities in truck maintenance and fuelling,” she said.

“Importantly we have created 41 new permanent roles, which are being offered locally as well as FIFO and will continue to be filled over coming months.”

Since the introduction of autonomous haulage at Jimblebar, significant events involving trucks have decreased by nearly 90%, according to BHP.

BHP readying rollout of autonomous trucks at Eastern Ridge

BHP is looking to start the roll out of autonomous trucks at its Eastern Ridge mine site in the Pilbara of Western Australia in the next month, with the fleet of 20 Cat 793 haul trucks set to be fully converted to autonomous mode by the end of the year.

The company announced earlier this year that Eastern Ridge (also referred to as Newman East) would be the next mine to benefit from autonomous haulage. This came after a previous automation announcement related to the jointly-owned Goonyella Riverside mine, in Queensland. BHP has also agreed to acquire 41 new model Komatsu 930E-5, which are autonomous ready, for its in-development South Flank iron ore mine, but the company has not yet confirmed if it will use the autonomous capability at the site.

A BHP spokesperson confirmed the existing fleet of Cat 793s were set for automation retrofits, explaining that the roll out would occur from the end of June/early July.

Despite the restrictions in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, the spokesperson said the company was on track for full roll out completion by the end of year, as planned.

In the announcement back in February, BHP said the automation project at Eastern Ridge, which the company is currently using as its proving ground for innovation, was down to the significant safety benefits offered by the technology and its ability to complement the mine’s design, culture and existing infrastructure.

“Newman East is home to our innovation centre, so we’re already using technology there that helps us to be safer and more efficient,” Newman Operations General Manager, Marie Bourgoin, said. “Autonomous trucks were the next logical step.”

This shift will create more than 30 new permanent jobs at Newman East to run and maintain the trucks, according to Bourgoin, with the new roles tied to planning the truck routes and operating the autonomous systems from a control centre, which will initially be located at the mine.

It will also generate more than A$33 million ($23 million) in contracts for Western Australia businesses, with the work required to transition Newman to autonomous haulage including autonomous conversion kits, trailers, training content development and engineering and construction packages.

Newman East is one half of BHP’s Newman operations, which also includes Newman West, locally known as Mt Whaleback. No decision has been made to introduce autonomous trucks at Newman West, the company confirmed.

Fortescue on the lookout for more automation and AI opportunities

In Fortescue Metals Group’s half-year report to end-December, the company provided an update on its haul truck automation retrofit project at its Chichester Hub iron ore operations, while commenting on the performance of its innovative relocatable conveyor.

For the six months to December 31, FMG shipped 82.7 Mt (84.5 Mt a year ago) of iron ore from its Pilbara operations, generated a net profit after tax of $644 million ($693 million a year ago) and posted underlying earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation of $1.6 billion ($1.8 billion a year ago).

As of December 31, 2018, FMG said 44 trucks had been converted with autonomous haulage technology (AHS) at Chichester Hub as part of its automation rollout.

Once complete, the conversion of approximately 100 haul trucks at its Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak operations (which both make up the Chichester Hub) will see Fortescue become the first iron ore operation in the world to have a fully autonomous operating fleet, it said.

The company also provided some commentary around the relocatable conveyor it has been using to cut costs and improve productivity at its Cloudbreak mine.

The conveyor, commissioned in May 2018 by RCR Tomlinson, doubled its throughput in the September quarter, according to FMG.

Fortescue said: “The five-kilometre conveyor includes a mobile primary crushing station that feeds directly into the ore processing facility. The relocatable conveyor and mobile crushing facilities can be positioned in close proximity to pits and relocated once mining in that area is complete.”

FMG concluded on innovation: “The company continues to look for opportunities for automation and artificial intelligence to drive greater efficiency across the business, including the use of data to predict outcomes and optimise performance, the expansion of autonomous mining and the application of relocatable conveyor technology.”

RCT bolsters ControlMaster automation solution with Multiple Machine Control

RCT has released the latest advancement to its ControlMaster® automation range in the form of Multiple Machine Control (MMC), which enables a single operator to control more than one mining machine at a time.

This entirely new operating system, also known as Control, is transforming the mining process in terms of productivity, efficiency and safety with a single operator able to remotely control more machines from the same operator station in a central location at a mine site, RCT said.

RCT’s Automation and Control Product Manager, Brendon Cullen, said: “It allows for an operator to send multiple machines to their destinations on ControlMaster Guidance Automation and concentrate on performing specific tasks with another machine.

“For example, the operator can supervise digging, dumping and loading functions before sending the machine to its destination on auto tramming and taking control of the next machine.

“The mining industry is striving to further streamline efficiencies and having one operator control multiple machines is allowing these efficiencies to be realised,” he said.

MMC meets a need in the industry as it helps clients to safeguard operators by removing them from the cab of mobile machines and, in some instances, from the hazards at a mine site. It also improves productivity and, in turn, profitability, according to RCT.

RCT said: “MMC can be implemented across surface and underground fleets and differs from other solutions available on the market today for a number of reasons including its usability and functionality.”

Cullen said: “The system can integrate into any site’s current operations and can be installed on any mobile machine, regardless of make or model. Being agnostic is a big advantage, as mine sites utilise more than one brand of mobile machines in their fleet.”

Another point of difference with MMC is there is no need for mine sites to upload mine maps before using the technology.

“This further ensures fast deployment between work areas as well as the opportunity to expand the system if and when required,” Cullen said.

While MMC operates on a digital network, RCT can provide technology—called RCT Bridge— that can interface with a mine site’s analogue communications network.

Cullen said: “The MMC solution can be operated locally at the work area, at a central location such as the office buildings on a mine site, or relocated to a central operating station location off site to a city (near or far).

“The system has the ability to change the way customers operate; some of the benefits associated with this change in mining practices include the possibility of introducing three eight-hour shifts from two 12-hour shifts.

“This provides better work/life balance for operators and, in the face of the labour shortages the industry is facing, the job role can be opened up to more people who weren’t able to travel to site to work in the field due to family commitments or perhaps even a disability.”

He concluded: “Moving operation centres from sites would also eliminate the need for lengthy and often costly inductions as well as the cost associated with transporting and housing operators on site.

MMC has already been deployed at several sites around the world, RCT said.

Caterpillar busy with Pilbara automation retrofit on Komatsu 930E haul trucks

Caterpillar says it is putting its commitment to retrofit solutions and mixed-fleet interoperability into practice by installing Cat® MineStar™ Command for hauling technology on Komatsu 930E mining trucks in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

The first commercial installation of the automation retrofit package will be completed before the end of the year, the company said, with 24 of the retrofitted, 290 t capacity 930E trucks working autonomously alongside the mine’s fleet of autonomous Cat trucks.

Craig Watkins, MineStar Solutions Manager, said: “Our interoperability initiative is driven by mining companies’ goals of making best use of their existing fleets.

“The Cat system makes it possible to operate different brands and sizes of trucks as well as manned trucks and autonomous trucks in the same space. Dynamic truck assignment optimises productivity. Our system also offers the flexibility to scale up fleet size to meet the mine’s needs.”

MineStar Command for hauling also allows trucks, no matter the payload or manufacturer, to operate at their full capabilities.

“The productivity gains attributed to Command for hauling are proven and growing,” the company said. For example, Caterpillar customer Fortescue Metals Group has measured a 30% improvement in productivity from its fleet of 70 Command-equipped trucks working at its Solomon Hub iron ore mines, also in the Pilbara, according to Cat.

In addition to the commercial launch of the 930E system, the first trial of autonomous Cat 797F mining trucks is underway at a mine in North America, Caterpillar said.

With nominal capacity of 363 t, the 797F is Caterpillar’s largest truck. It will join the 227 t capacity Cat 793F CMD, already operating in the Canadian oil sands, South America and Australia, in the autonomous truck line up.