Tag Archives: Autonomous Haulage System

Cat’s autonomous hauling and dozing platform receives wireless signal boost

After a year of extensive testing, Caterpillar says it has completed the validation of a wireless technology that will improve networking capabilities for users of its Cat® MineStar™ Command automation offerings for hauling and dozing.

The wireless technology is provided by Fluidmesh Networks, a leader in wireless networking for operational technology applications involving fast roaming and autonomous vehicles, which only yesterday became the subject of a takeover offer from Cisco.

Cat Command for hauling helps improve productivity, efficiency and profitability while reducing overall costs, according to the mining OEM, while Cat Command for dozing provides line-of-sight and non-line-of-sight solutions to keep operators out of the cab and out of harm’s way.

Cosimo Malesci, Fluidmesh Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Sales, said: “Fluidmesh’s goal is to help customers achieve higher mine-wide productivity by offering a better wireless transport layer. We are extremely pleased to have been able to achieve this milestone with Caterpillar and extend our solutions to Command customers.”

Fluidmesh employs a multiprotocol label switching based solution over wireless, a routing technique capable of reducing roaming times, packet drops and overall network complexity, according to the company.

Gabe Klyber, IT Communications Consultant for Cat MineStar Solutions, says this translates to higher uptime, higher throughput, and lower latency for Command customers when compared with other solutions. “It will also give our customers more options when it comes to connecting trucks, dozers and other supporting assets,” Klyber said.

The Fluidmesh solution, transmitting at 5 GHz end-to-end, uses artificial intelligence algorithms and dual-polarity antennas to improve transmission in challenging environments, according to Fluidmesh. “This approach adds diversity to the networks supported by Caterpillar for use in Command applications,” Cat says.

Malesci added: “Validating wireless solutions for Command offerings and tele-remote operations takes a massive amount of energy and dedication. We are committed to assisting mining companies with their connectivity needs and are truly excited to be able to offer to Command customers a radical new approach to wireless networking.”

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.

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.

 

BMA’s Palmer talks up potential for autonomous haul trucks

James Palmer (pictured), BHP Mitsubishi Alliance Asset President, said this week that autonomous haulage systems (AHS) could become a much bigger part of the company’s operations in the future.

Speaking to attendees at a Bowen Basin Mining Club lunch in Mackay, Australia, Palmer said there was potential for 500 autonomous trucks to be introduced at BMA’s open-pit coal operations and BHP’s iron ore mines in the future.

This number of autonomous trucks first came up in a strategy briefing presentation delivered by Chief Financial Officer, Peter Beaven, in May.

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. 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.

This move follows a successful rollout of the technology at BHP’s Jimblebar iron ore operation in Western Australia, where the company, since implementation of the fully-autonomous solution, has seen significant incidents involving trucks decrease by almost 90%, according to Palmer.

It is this experience that has led to BMA and BHP Iron Ore studying widespread autonomous haulage at its operations.

“Through the study, which spans both BMA and BHP’s Iron Ore business, there’s potential to for up to 500 autonomous trucks to be introduced in our open-cut operations,” he said.

“It’s an ambitious target – that would see about a tenfold increase to BHP’s existing fleet of autonomous trucks already operating at Jimblebar today. But, like I said earlier, the results from Jimblebar – particularly the safety improvements – continue to make a strong case for change.”

In addition to talking up potential AHS operations, Palmer also spoke about the BHP Integrated Remote Operations Centre (IROC), a centre set up just over two years ago that has “created an extensive suite of training and upskilling opportunities for our people”, he said.

“Over 50% of the IROC’s mine control team have formerly operated heavy vehicles,” Palmer said. “Now, they’re helping drive our entire coal supply chain – from pit to port.”

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.

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.