Tag Archives: Brendon Cullen

RCT’s autonomous mining equipment-specific Wi-Fi hits its stride

RCT says its new specialised Wi-Fi network for autonomous mining equipment is generating strong and positive feedback from industry.

The first ever mining communications system created specifically to support all underground autonomous mining equipment, RCT Connect is flexible in that it is designed to engage with any third-party systems and can enhance the performance of any mining automation and control solutions available on the market, according to RCT.

Since the network’s launch in 2019, it has been deployed at multiple active mines around the world – including Kazzinc’s Tishinsky mine, in Kazakhstan – and has generated strong and positive feedback from site personnel, RCT says.

Brendon Cullen, RCT Automation and Control Product Manager, says RCT Connect is the best underground communications network option available.

“The system is inexpensive and very user friendly so it can be set up quite easily by mine site technicians who do not need specialised training in order to establish and maintain this technology,” he said.

“RCT Connect is designed to be agnostic, and so can integrate with all of the commercially available automation and control solutions offered by global manufacturers.”

He added: “The network is designed to deliver very stable performance and low, consistent latency between operator stations in secure, remote locations and the machine located in production areas.”

Customers will be able to cheaply scale RCT Connect to suit their needs as underground mining operation evolves, according to the company. The network can be adjusted to suit various tramming distances and can ensure effective machine operation over shorter – as well as longer – runs.

Cullen said one key aspect of RCT Connect is its smart roaming feature, which means it is always searching for new wireless access points as underground mining equipment auto trams between certain locations.

“Many commercially available communications networks are configured to access certain nodes for too long and as mobile mining equipment continues to traverse a site, it can result in communication failures,” he said.

RCT embeds machine automation expertise in new Wi-Fi offering

RCT says it has released the first digital Wi-Fi communications network designed specifically for machine automation and control in underground mining operations.

RCT Connect is designed to be user friendly and portable and can be installed into a production area and commissioned with minimal time and expertise, according to the automation leader.

The company has already made significant headway with RCT Connect, with the network having been tested at a mine site in Western Australia and recently deployed in an underground mining operation outside of Australia.

RCT Connect has been built to withstand the harsh conditions, common in underground mining environments, and can operate in temperatures ranging from -20°C (-4°F) to 60°C (140°F), RCT said.

It uses a coaxial cable able to transfer power and information to access points for up to 1.5 km before additional power insertion is required along the length of a drive, according to RCT.

“This feature offers several major benefits over traditional Wi-Fi deployments such as reduced requirement for configuration, eliminating costly cables to run between access points and a simple installation with only two connections,” the company said.

Once operational, RCT Connect provides a simple connection to a ControlMaster® Area Access Control at strategic locations which then links into the mine-wide communications backbone to transfer information to a machine operator located in a ControlMaster Automation Centre on the mine’s surface, the company said.

The platform operates at 2.4 GHz and is capable of carrying out remote diagnostics, live machine tracking and delivering live health and production data from the machine, according to RCT.

RCT Product Manager Automation & Control, Brendon Cullen, said RCT Connect offers several distinct advantages over commercially available digital communication networks.

“RCT Connect is specifically designed to ensure uninterrupted communication between the machine and the operator regardless of location,” he said.

“The platform has very stable performance with low, consistent latency and so ensures reliable communications between command inputs from the surface station and subsequent machine activities.”

He added: “We have also optimised the platform to enable smart roaming and, therefore, seamless handover between wireless access points so that there is no dropout along the length of the drives.”

In other commercially available communications networks, node handover is configured differently so if the machine is looking for a node or hangs on too long then communication failures arise, Cullen explained.

RCT Connect can be sold as a standalone package or in conjunction with RCT’s ControlMaster automation products.

RCT and GBF reflect on decade-long automation partnership

RCT and underground mining specialist, GBF, have marked 10 years of working together to implement autonomous technology into underground mining operations.

Since 2009, when GBF & RCT conducted underground trials of the ControlMaster® Guidance Automation system at Gold Fields Caves Rock mining operations, RCT has delivered 19 autonomous systems including Sandvik LH203s, CAT 2900Gs, R1700s, R1700Gs and R1300Gs at multiple GBF-run mine sites throughout Western Australia’s Goldfields, according to RCT.

The work collectively amounts to roughly 15,000 hours of machines operating on Guidance Automation within GBF-run operations.

“ControlMaster Guidance Automation has seen numerous software iterations over its product life starting with dynamic operator engagement, surface control to independent autonomous tramming and, more recently, multi machine control via RCT’s latest automation offering,” RCT said.

GBF Maintenance Superintendent Alan Moyle, who played a key role in the initial trials and has seen the Guidance Automation system evolve over the last 10 years, said RCT’s technology has significantly improved safe machine operations by removing personnel from the mine face as well as better operator fatigue control.

“Greater control features have reduced the amount of machine damage due to operator errors with consistent machine cycles enabling us to improve productivity and it provides us data when tendering for new contracts,” he said

“RCT have also provided multiple opportunities for GBF apprentices to gain experience with their latest modern technology which they have subsequently applied to their work.”

RCT Product Manager Automation & Control, Brendon Cullen, said GBF’s early adoption of RCT’s technology meant its operations have benefitted consistently as the product has evolved.

“GBF has been influential in driving features and improvements to the system over time and develop new features such as G-Dash which empower operator’s decision making by presenting a dashboard of the machinery in relation to its surrounding in real time,” he said

“GBF’s operators have also consistently provided feedback over time, resulting in improvements such as faster tramming times, better cornering speeds, more efficient braking and the evolution of the fully automated tramming cycle.

“As the mines are becoming deeper the drive to operate the machinery from the surface is becoming a key requirement to maximise production times. RCT continues to work in partnership with GBF to allow them to reach their goals as cost efficiently as possible using the technology available onsite at the time.”

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.

Three tiers for RCT’s ControlMaster automation packages

RCT has looked to broaden its automation package with three products suited to various levels of technology adoption that can be tailored to mine-specific installations.

The company’s ControlMaster® automation solutions encompass surface and underground mines to help increase productivity and profitability on site.

In the past year, its solutions have broadened extensively to directly meet industry demands and will continue to do so into the future, the company said.

“Unlike other automation solutions on the market, RCT’s offering is unique in that it’s agile across all mobile machines, regardless of make or model; making it ideal for site’s operating mixed fleets and those not wanting to replace existing infrastructure,” RCT says.

RCT’s Automation and Control Product Manager Brendon Cullen said: “RCT knows there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to automation. Different mine sites are at different stages and the majority of them are operating diverse fleets.

“We wanted to ensure we are able to supply various levels of automation to suit client’s equipment and requirements while empowering them with the options of making staged upgrades if, and when required down the track.”

Part of this journey was the ability to adapt and deliver new features to the market to ensure clients get the most out of the company’s autonomous equipment, RCT said.

Starting its automation journey is RCT’s Guidance Automation package; driverless technology that allows the operator to control machines from the comfort of an Automation Centre (pictured).

Cullen said: “Guidance Automation has already proven to combat operator fatigue considerably as less concentration is required to keep mobile machines from hitting the drive walls allowing operators to focus on the important tasks like digging.”

The Guidance Automation package includes Point-to-Point; which allows a machine to tram from one point to the other with the simple push of a button.

“It will stay on the optimal path, with no intervention needed. This feature improves tramming time, reduces machine damage and improves productivity and profitability,” Cullen said.

In addition to this, the package addresses the demand for more relevant information with – Guidance Dash (G-Dash). This additional screen empowers operators with real-time information on their machine and surroundings, according to the company.

Used in conjunction with RCT’s ControlMaster® Guidance, G-Dash gives operators a graphical representation of the machine displaying its articulation angle, waypoint, locations, machine’s speed, RPM and pitch and roll. This ensures it’s placed in the best position for the ideal dig every time, RCT says.

RCT’s Guidance Expand is the next package, offering additional optional extras to further enhance Guidance Automation to suit specific mine requirements.

“This allows clients to add certain features that are necessary to improve the autonomous process,” Cullen said.

“Clients might only have the need for one or two additional features and this option allows clients to select the options they deem necessary to suit their purposes.”

Expand comprises of Select, Control, AutoNav, AutoLoad, DigAssist and G-Data, all of which empower operators with more information and enable them to further increase productivity, RCT says.

“These advanced options allow sites to implement step-by-step autonomous advancements,” Cullen said.

Rounding out the release is RCT’s Infinite package, which combines all the “latest technology available to deliver the full mining solution; allowing clients to stay at the forefront with our technological advancements”, RCT says.

At present this includes Automation, Traffic Management, Telematics, Network, People and Asset Tracking, Integration and more.

“We are constantly innovating at RCT and our clients on the Infinite package will be the first to experience our advancements,” Cullen said.