Tag Archives: Command for Hauling

Immersive to supply simulators, solutions for Rio’s Gudai-Darri automation

Rio Tinto has enlisted the help of Immersive Technologies and its equipment simulators to further its autonomous haulage footprint at the new Gudai-Darri iron ore mine in Western Australia.

The mine, which will operate Caterpillar autonomous trucks equipped with Cat MineStar™ Command for Hauling system, will use simulation-based training solutions from Immersive Technologies to address the workforce development challenges within autonomous haulage operations with a focus on improving the safety and efficiency of their operator workforce, Immersive said.

Rio has used such systems from Immersive for over 17 years, understanding the value of investing in simulators for operator capability development, including equipment productivity and reliability initiatives, Immersive said.

Rio Tinto Vice President, Human Resources, Scott Browne, said: “This is an important component of our comprehensive training program for AHS, which includes supporting new team members as well as upskilling existing employees. Gudai-Darri will be one of the world’s most technologically advanced mines. Preparations are well under way to ensure its workforce is ready to take on the high-tech jobs on offer.”

Focused on capability development in the usage of the autonomous system, Rio Tinto partnered with Immersive Technologies to provide a solution to support the mine-readiness schedule and objectives, Immersive said. Specific training products include a platform which simulates a Cat 6060 excavator, Cat D10T dozer and Cat 18M grader. All simulator modules are equipped with an autonomous system panel and provide a safe and effective environment for training by allowing learners to operate their equipment while interacting with the autonomous trucks and managing their work areas as required, the company added.

The simulator solution is complimented by machine pre-start inspection software, which provides a detailed visualisation of equipment components, including autonomous components fitted to machines. Additionally, a ‘Virtual Classroom’ product hosts complex autonomous procedures that immerses learners in a safe and repeatable virtual environment which enables the development of deep knowledge and muscle memory of operational procedures, Immersive said.

Greg Karadjian, Regional Vice President Australia of Immersive, said: “Immersive Technologies is at the forefront of workforce development for autonomous haulage mining operations with deployments of simulation-based training solutions in more than 17 autonomous sites globally, by utilising blended learning systems, simulation and human performance analytics our solutions are preparing the workforces of the future.”

Back in 2019, Rio, Caterpillar and WesTrac signed an agreement to supply and support mining machines, automation and enterprise technology systems at Gudai-Darri, with Rio confirming the supply of a fleet of 20 autonomous 793F trucks as well as four autonomous blast drills.

Gudai-Darri will deliver a new production hub for Rio Tinto’s iron ore business in the Pilbara. Once complete, the mine will have an annual capacity of 43 Mt, underpinning production of the Pilbara Blend, Rio’s flagship iron ore product.

Fortescue celebrates 100th autonomous haul truck conversion at Chichester Hub

Fortescue Metals Group has celebrated an important milestone in the rollout of autonomous haulage technology at its Chichester Hub operations, in the Pilbara of Western Australia, with the conversion of its 100th autonomous truck.

The full conversion of 108 haul trucks at the Chichester Hub, which comprises the Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak mines, is expected to be completed in September 2020, it said.

Since the introduction of Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology at Fortescue in 2012, 168 trucks have been converted across the company’s Solomon and Chichester Hubs. This has seen Fortescue’s autonomous haul fleet move around 1,400 Mt of material and achieve a greater than 30% increase in productivity levels (compared with previous manned fleets), it said.

Fortescue Chief Executive Officer, Elizabeth Gaines, said: “Fortescue’s AHS deployment represents the largest fleet conversion to autonomous haulage in the industry.

“Our history of embracing leading-edge technology has ensured Fortescue remains at the lowest end of the global cost curve and remains fundamental to driving sustained productivity and efficiency improvements across our business to ensure we continue to deliver enhanced returns for our shareholders and key stakeholders.

“Most importantly, the introduction of AHS technology has improved safety outcomes across our operations and we’re very pleased that the Automated Mining Projects team has also achieved this important milestone in the truck conversion program with zero harm to any team members.”

Workforce skills development has been a key aspect of Fortescue’s automation project, it said, with the company’s training and redeployment program successfully transferring or upskilling team members to new roles across the business.

“Training is at the heart of everything we do at Fortescue and as we continue the integration of autonomous trucks across our sites, this ethos has guided our efforts to ensure no redundancies due to automation and to deliver significant benefits to employees from the opportunities offered by this project,” Gaines said.

Fortescue was the first company in the world to deploy Cat autonomous haulage on a commercial scale at the Solomon Hub. It was also the first in the world to retrofit Command for Hauling (part of Caterpillar’s MineStar technology) on a Cat 789D and Komatsu 930E haul truck.

The iron ore miner’s fleet of 168 autonomous trucks have now travelled in excess of 47 Mkm since AHS was first introduced – the equivalent of 65 return trips to the moon.

And, as part of the Chichester Hub automation project, 549,500 parts have been fitted to date across 100 trucks.

Caterpillar hits 2 billion tonnes hauled milestone with autonomous haulage system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Why the Pilbara leads the way in haul truck automation

A presentation at last month’s AusIMM Iron Ore 2019 Conference, in Perth, Western Australia, made it clear that the state’s steel raw material miners are leading the way when it comes to applying autonomous haulage systems (AHS) in open-pit mining.

Richard Price, Manager of Projects for Mining Technicians Group Australia (MTGA), has been involved in this technology space for a number of years, having initially witnessed an automation trial involving two trucks at Alcoa’s Willowdale bauxite mine, in Pinjarra, all the way back in 1994.

At the conference, his paper set out the state of play in Pilbara when it comes to AHS, explaining: the first commercial scale trial in iron ore took place at Rio Tinto’s West Angelas operation in 2008, there are two original equipment manufacturer (OEM) AHS operating in the Pilbara – Caterpillar Command for Hauling and the Komatsu FrontRunner – and the three major iron ore miners (Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue Metals Group (FMG)) were leaders when it comes to using autonomous trucks.

FMG is the largest operator of autonomous trucks in the Pilbara – making it effectively the largest in the world – with 128 at the end of June (according to the miner’s June quarter results). Rio, meanwhile, had 96 up and running, with BHP having a total of 50, as per publicly released data.

“FMG has plans to automate all of their trucks, including the first non-OEM trucks on an alternate OEM system,” Price said, with him adding that the company has now automated a number of Komatsu 930E vehicles using the Caterpillar Command for Hauling AHS: a world first.

“Additionally, FMG is also operating multiple Caterpillar OEM trucks onsite, in another world first having three classes of truck on the one system at the same site (789D, 793F and 930E),” he said.

While Komatsu, historically, has more time in the field with commercial autonomous applications – it surpassed 2 billion tons of autonomous haulage in November – than Caterpillar, the Illinois-based OEM has received more global success, being able to point to AHS deployments in the oil sands of Canada, the coal mines of British Columbia and Vale’s iron ore operations in Brazil.

“With regards to the on-board AHS componentry, the Komatsu system is somewhat simpler than the Caterpillar system,” Price said. “The significant difference is that Caterpillar utilises a LiDAR (Velodyne 64-layer), with RADAR, whilst the Komatsu system uses RADAR only. However there are additional differences in the on-board controls – the Caterpillar system is known for having more significant vehicle on-board computing power, versus the Komatsu system which places greater reliance on the wireless network whilst performing most of the calculations on the server side.”

Even with the on-board computing power of Caterpillar’s system, the performance of these trucks only tends to be as good as the communications infrastructure they are tied to.

Presently, only the Komatsu system has announced successful trials of using 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network technology as the communications system which commands the trucks, with the Caterpillar system presently reliant on wireless networking technology, “of which all current implementations rely upon (globally)”, Price said.

One of the issues with such technologies is the trucks stop driving, or operating, if they lose communications, with the trucks communicating, via this network, their position to each other and directional heading and speed.

The way the trucks re-start their driving routine is, at present, via manual visual inspection, which can be a process that takes time.

And, according to Price, a significant problematic issue with trucks stopping driving across all the Pilbara sites is the triggering of a false positive object detection.

“These are often referred to as ‘ODs’ on the various sites which utilise AHS,” Price said, with many operators blaming undulations in the road, pot holes, or small rocks for these occurrences.

Again, manual inspection is normally required as part of an operation’s procedure for re-starting the autonomous trucks.

Out in front

Despite these communication and OD problems, Western Australia still leads the way when it comes to automation with the Pilbara hosting around 75% of the circa-370 trucks operating globally.
What is the reason for this? Price highlighted five bullet points in his speech:

  • High cost of operators – annual salaries for truck operations are, in general, over A$100,000 ($68,882);
  • Ease of implementation – “the Pilbara miners generally have open ground, and have had an opportunity to trial the technology in a dedicated work area prior to a site-wide implementation,” Price said, adding that the topography has also made it simpler to install the required communications systems;
  • Scale and longevity of operations – Previously cost-benefit analysis of AHS included an approximate cutoff point of 12 Mt/y total material movement, which equates to six to eight off-highway haul trucks, Price said. All operations exceed this, as well as having long mine lives;
  • The fact that all the sites which have presently deployed AHS are currently fly-in/fly-out mines which transport the staff to site from their point-of-hire, and;
  • Experience of technology and processes in the Pilbara – miners in the region have long-term familiarity with fleet management systems and technology adoption.

Price said: “Western Australia does not necessarily have any unique or special advantage, however, it has made sense for Pilbara iron ore operators to implement AHS for the reasons outlined above.”

The benefits

MTGA’s Price pointed to several quotes from the mining companies themselves to explain the benefits of automation.

Rio Tinto, in 2018, said: “On average, each autonomous truck was estimated to have operated about 700 hours more than conventional haul trucks during 2017 and around 15% lower load and haul unit costs.”

FMG, in the same year, said it was seeing 32% productivity improvements with autonomous trucking.

Vale, meanwhile, previously told Mining.com: “The adoption of autonomous trucks at Brucutu (iron ore mine, in Brazil) is expected to reduce fuel consumption by more than 10%. Maintenance costs, in turn, should fall by another 10% and off-road truck tyres, which cost up to $40,000, are expected to have 25% lower wear. The overall gains translate into a 15% increase in equipment life, reducing investments in new acquisitions and reducing carbon dioxide emissions at the same time.”

Price said: “There are clearly differing metrics being monitored by these three operators at present. However, irrespective of the metrics monitored, AHS obviously has had a significant impact on the operating environment.

“It appears that the increase in utilisation of the autonomous trucks is the most significant benefit that they provide. The decrease in costs is also helpful, but the increase in predictability of the truck fleet is what drives the actual benefit.

“A number of materially measurable but difficult to quantify benefits exist from the rendering of trucks autonomous as well. These include less maintenance, better tyre wear (or increased tyre life), reduced fuel costs (for the same tonnage output) and better overall truck performance.”

For instance, Komatsu has previously said the optimised automatic controls of AHS reduce sudden acceleration and abrupt steering, resulting in a 40% improvement in tyre life compared with conventional operations.

And, of course, there are the numerous safety benefits that come with using automated haul trucks.

The future

While Price believes that mining will continue to become more autonomous, he said the mine of the future was likely to involve the automatic distribution of data files that trucks would work off without human involvement.

“For now, technologies such as LTE for better communications network coverage, the use of drones, long-range cameras or other autonomous ground vehicles to conduct the manual visual inspection and other autonomous equipment will be implemented,” he said.

He added: “It is likely that there will be a continuum of development over the next 20-30 years.

“Mining companies and OEMs will have a lot to learn from automotive vehicle automation. Obviously, there are more cars on the roads than there are off-highway haulage trucks on minesites. Therefore the general costs of automation kits will come down, and there will be an opportunity to conduct operations in a GPS-denied environment.

“Already, the costs of select items such as the LiDAR utilised by the Caterpillar system have halved in price since they were used a decade ago. Solid state LiDARs, as opposed to rotational, are being implemented in the automotive industry already.”

He pointed to MINExpo 2016, in Las Vegas, when Komatsu showcased its cabless, driverless truck as one development to look out for.

“It is predicted that in the longer-term future (ie 20-30 years’ time), cabs will be an additional and expensive option to add onto an off-highway heavy haulage truck,” he said.

“Whilst the future is autonomous, it will be technologically more advanced than the present technologies,” he concluded, adding that, given its head start, one would expect the Pilbara iron ore industry to deploy these technologies first.

MTGA’s Richard Price has also written a business case study on AHS, published by AusIMM – www.ausimmbulletin.com/feature/autonomous-haulage-systems-the-business-case/ – and, in partnership with Whittle Consulting’s Nick Redwood, put together an Autonomous Haulage Systems Financial Model Assessment – www.whittleconsulting.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Autonomous-Haulage-Study-Report-Rev-F.pdf

Newmont Goldcorp weighing haul truck automation at Boddington

Newmont Goldcorp President – and soon to be CEO – Tom Palmer, told investors on a conference call this week that the miner was looking into the feasibility of implementing autonomous haulage at the Boddington gold-copper mine, in Western Australia.

The mine produced 709,000 oz of gold for Newmont Goldcorp last year and is currently undergoing a stripping campaign in the South Pit in order to reach higher-grade ore.

Palmer said the company recently advanced its “autonomous haulage study” at the mine and there could be a funding decision made on this project before the end of 2019.

“If approved, the project is expected to improve cost and mining productivity, by converting the fleet of 39 haul trucks to autonomous operation, using the Cat command system,” Palmer said.

Fortescue autonomy firsts continue with start-up of AHS-equipped Cat 789Ds

Fortescue Metals Group has completed another significant step to becoming the first iron ore operation in the world to have a fully autonomous haulage fleet with the first Cat 789D model trucks fitted with Autonomous Haulage Technology (AHS) now in operation at its Cloudbreak operation in Western Australia.

Building on Fortescue’s autonomy capability, which began in 2012 when the company was the first in the world to deploy Cat autonomous haulage on a commercial scale, the planned roll out of 38 autonomous trucks at Cloudbreak has commenced. The conversion of Fortescue’s fleet to autonomy across all its mine sites in the Pilbara will see 175 trucks fitted with AHS by mid-2020.

Fortescue’s fleet of autonomous trucks has safely travelled over 28 million kilometres and has moved over 860 Mt of material, delivering a 30% improvement in productivity, according to the company.

In a global first, Fortescue retrofitted Cat Command for Hauling, part of Caterpillar’s MineStar technology, on Komatsu 930E haul trucks at Christmas Creek. The 930Es have been operating alongside the Cat 789Ds since November, “demonstrating the company’s capability to manage and operate the first multi-class truck size autonomous haulage site in the industry”, the company said.

Chief Executive Officer, Elizabeth Gaines, said: “Currently, Fortescue’s pioneering AHS deployment is the largest mining technology program in the industry.

“Our approach to autonomy is to be open and transparent with our plans and to work closely with our team members to offer opportunities for re-training and re-deployment. Around 3,000 Fortescue team members have been trained to work with autonomous haulage, including over 200 people trained as Mine Controllers and AHS system professionals. This ensures Fortescue remains transformational and leads to higher skilled workers and jobs.”

The rollout of AHS at Cloudbreak also required the transfer of 160 pieces of machinery to the Cat MineStar Command remote operations server. Cloudbreak is now the first remote mining operation in the world to use the Cat MineStar Command system in production mode, FMG said.

“Our remote operations centre located in Perth is a critical part of our integrated supply chain and key to increasing productivity and efficiency across our operations,” Gaines said.

Denise Johnson, Group President for Caterpillar’s Resource Industries, said: “Caterpillar and Fortescue have a history of industry-leading collaboration in the area of autonomy and automation. Cloudbreak takes this relationship to the next level and demonstrates another great example of Fortescue’s commitment to safety, site productivity and sustainable mining.”

Fortescue’s Cloudbreak mine site is also home to the 5-km relocatable conveyor, previously supplied by RCR Tomlinson, which includes two semi-mobile primary crushing stations and feeds directly into the Cloudbreak ore processing facility (OPF). “Another example of Fortescue’s innovative operations, the infrastructure can be positioned approximate to pits and relocated, extended or shortened once an area is mined,” the company said.

Within two weeks of operation, the conveyor was at full capacity, carrying 5,000 t/h of ore at approximately 25 km/h. The conveyor has replaced the equivalent of 12 manned trucks, FMG said.

“Together with the 11 autonomous drills currently operating across sites and the relocatable conveyor at Cloudbreak, our autonomous operations continue to deliver significant benefits to the business,” Gaines said.

Fortescue’s autonomous haul truck fleet at Christmas Creek still growing

Fortescue Metals Group has now seen 35 manned haul trucks converted to autonomous mode at its Christmas Creek operations in the Pilbara of Western Australia, with Caterpillar recently completing a Command for hauling installation on a Komatsu 930 E, according to the iron ore miner.

The company shared the news ahead of an investor and media tour of the company’s operations this week.

During the tour, attendees will take in details of the company’s new 60.1% Fe product, West Pilbara Fines, in addition to viewing the innovative relocatable conveyor that started operating earlier this year.

Visitors can also expect to see first-hand Fortescue’s roll out of autonomous haulage technology. This includes a global first where Cat Command for hauling, part of Caterpillar’s MineStar technology offering first used on a commercial scale at Fortescue’s Solomon Hub operation, has been retrofitted on a CAT 789D and a Komatsu 930E haul truck.

Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Gaines said: “Fortescue has led the way globally in embracing automation at our operations. The 789D is the 35th manned truck to be converted to autonomous at Christmas Creek, demonstrating our progress to becoming the only iron ore operation in the world to have a fully autonomous haulage fleet.”

Gaines said the tour will also see the company discuss Fortescue’s new energy agenda, including the integration of renewable energy and its recently announced landmark partnership with CSIRO to commercialise hydrogen technology.

Cat scaling new autonomy heights with virtual mine site simulator

Caterpillar has quickly become a leader in the field of autonomous haulage, with many new and retrofitted solutions found across Western Australia and the Canadian oil sands.

Yet, the company is not slowing down now it has passed more than 100 operating in the field, with its scalability lab – part of the virtual mine site at the company’s Mossville facility in Peoria, Illinois – a key driver in achieving more sales.

This lab has been in place for more than five years and was devised to stay 20-25% ahead of Cat’s biggest Command for hauling customer, IM and other mining journalists were told on Wednesday during a tour of the facility.

From this lab, and its array of monitors, operators track and orchestrate the movement of hundreds of vehicles, with controllers setting daily production goals and sending machines for maintenance or diagnostic testing. It is designed to enact a real mine site, with the simulation running 24 hours a day, five days a week.

The 20-25% goal means the company is now simulating some 400 pieces of manned and unmanned equipment using Command for hauling in its lab. It uses real-life operating data previously collected from its customers as input parameters, while having set ‘scripts’ for the operating behaviour of the equipment.

The virtual equipment currently includes some 120 autonomous haul trucks, 30 manned trucks and over 100 auxiliary vehicles.

The ability to simulate this mass of machines ensures Caterpillar stays ahead of the game.

In addition to this, the company can use a nearby test track to simulate the reaction time, hazard perception and general behaviour of autonomous trucks via fully kitted out Chevrolet Tahoes. The Tahoes are set up with components normally found on mining equipment in the field, with the generated data scaled up to the equivalent of one of its, or another vendor’s, haul trucks.

All this R&D means the company can continue with its ambitious programme of releasing two new updates of Command for hauling every year with several valuable additions.

It also allows the company to test out some 90-95% of Command for hauling functionality before it even gets to the machines operating at the company’s Tinaja proving grounds in in Tucson, Arizona.