Tag Archives: Drew Larsen

MTU and ASI Mining to offer ‘integrated future-oriented autonomous solutions’

Rolls-Royce and Autonomous Solutions Incorporated (ASI) have signed a memorandum of understanding enabling Rolls-Royce to offer autonomous-compatible, Mobius-ready MTU engine solutions for equipment in a wide range of mining applications.

As part of the agreement, ASI Mining, a subsidiary of ASI, has agreed to ensure compatibility of MTU engines and ASI’s Mobius command and control software for autonomous vehicles.

With its brand MTU, Rolls-Royce business unit Power Systems is a leading provider of advanced power solutions for a wide variety of applications, including mining equipment. ASI Mining, meanwhile, is an industry leader in the development and sales of high-tech autonomous solutions for mining equipment and other machinery in a wide range of applications. The companies plan to leverage their experience to offer customers engine solutions that are compatible with ASI’s vehicle automation software to help optimise vehicle power performance and efficiency, thus enabling more environmentally friendly and safer mining operations, the two said.

Scott Woodruff, Global Director for Mining and Oil & Gas at Rolls-Royce Power Systems, said: “We are excited to shape the mining industry’s future together with ASI and further leverage our advanced MTU technologies. Together we will offer our customers integrated future-oriented autonomous solutions. This agreement may help mining operators save big on operational costs and at the same time, reduce their environmental footprint by cutting emissions.”

Drew Larsen, Director of Business Development for ASI Mining, said: “We are excited to start these discussions with Rolls-Royce Power Systems. This is another testament to the interoperability of Mobius and real value it adds to our mining customers.”

One potential benefit to customers of Rolls-Royce and ASI Mining may be the ability to retrofit the power system on existing haul trucks and convert them to autonomous operation, the companies said. The companies are interested in exploring the value customers would receive by modernising their trucks with more efficient MTU engines along with implementation of ASI’s industry-leading autonomous mining solutions. Customers would thus save on operating costs and further benefit from the increased performance of the autonomously optimised MTU engines, they said.

MTU says its diesel engines have been setting the standards for performance and fuel efficiency in mining applications around the globe for decades. “They reliably power vehicles for underground and surface mining, including loading vehicles such as excavators and wheel loaders, transport vehicles such as haul trucks or blasthole drilling rigs, and other mining machines – diesel-mechanic, diesel-electric or diesel-hydraulic,” it said. “For these applications, MTU engines provide high performance, reliability and availability as well as a maintenance-friendly construction. Long service intervals and an efficient use of fuel provide for exceptionally low operating costs of machines powered with MTU engines.”

ASI Mining’s Mobius, meanwhile, leverages advanced multi-vehicle command and control software to set up and manage a coordinated system of haul trucks. The Mobius Haulage Platform manages autonomous traffic, coordinates manned or unmanned vehicles and regulates the haul cycle in the most efficient way possible. By employing Mobius software, mines can improve utilisation, along with increase safety and productivity.

Battle for greenfield mining autonomy

The big two global giants in autonomous mining truck solutions continue to battle it out in chasing new contracts, especially for greenfield mines that offer a chance to supply more profitable “new” autonomous fleets as opposed to retrofitting autonomous capability onto existing fleets.

The main battle grounds remain Australian iron ore in Western Australia’s Pilbara region and Canadian oil sands in the Alberta production hub centred on Fort McMurray, though there are also surface haul truck autonomy trials ongoing in other mine types such as iron ore in other parts of the world, gold, coal and copper.

In iron ore the competition has turned traditional norms on their head.

Rio Tinto, traditionally a Komatsu truck user, announced earlier in 2019 that it had agreed to work together with Caterpillar to create an automated mine operation at the Koodaideri iron ore project, in Western Australia. The agreement will see Cat® and dealer WesTrac supply and support mining machines, automation and enterprise technology systems for the new mine. Rio, in a separate release, said this would see the supply of a fleet of 20 new autonomous 793F trucks.

Then in September, BHP, traditionally a Caterpillar truck user, turned the tables again by announcing that it will deploy 41 new Komatsu 930E-5 ultra-class autonomous haul trucks at its new South Flank iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, commencing in October 2019.

But OEM battles aside, autonomy comes with its own issues. This includes the mine having sufficient network capacity in place but also other practicalities like how it ties in with haul road design and how it affects OTR tyre performance.

This tyre angle is being delved into in some detail by Tony Cutler, Principal at specialist consultancy OTR Global, at the forthcoming inaugural Truck & Shovel Conference from International Mining Events, running 19-20 September in Singapore at the InterContinental, Middle Road.

His talk, “Factoring tyres into autonomous haulage”, will point out that since 2008, over 400 autonomous haul trucks have entered commercial operation on open-pit mines and, while autonomous haulage offers improved productivity, safety and operating cost, he argues that the main constraint to maximising these benefits is tyres. This presentation identifies the limitations associated with tyres – some inherent to the tyres, others to the autonomous systems and operating environments – and suggests solutions.

Cutler will be joined in an autonomy related session by Drew Larsen, Director of Business Development, ASI Mining, in 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 judging from Barrick’s commentary in its June quarter results, the gold miner is happy with how things are going.

Interestingly, Barrick said initially none of the OEMs wanted to engage in the project, “due to the mammoth task of retrofitting an autonomous system to a 20-year-old fleet of ultra-class trucks and the technological limitations that come with that age of machine”.

Barrick found another partner in ASI that specialises in autonomous solutions both inside and outside the mining industry and has now successfully completed a proof of concept (POC) utilising five haulage units “that have delivered over 5.5 Mt faster than any other similar POC in the industry”, it said.

These autonomous solutions require a lot of data to be effective and while there are no shortages of nodes on equipment nowadays, the haulage and loading industry is still coming to terms with how best to leverage this data.

Speakers from Komatsu will be confronting this issue head on at the event, with Jason Knuth, Senior Manager – Data Solutions, and Simon Van Wegen, Product Manager – Data Solutions, presenting a keynote titled, “Data-driven designs for dynamic mining environments”.

The two intend to reveal how OEMs are leveraging the plethora of data nodes on smart equipment to adapt equipment and design solutions for the modern mine environment.

To hear from more speakers like this, register for Truck & Shovel by clicking here.

Epiroc deal to make ASI Mining a better company, Larsen says

Epiroc’s investment in ASI Mining has been a big talking point over the past few months, with many observers keen to know how the two companies will interact going forward. IM Editor Dan Gleeson put some questions to Drew Larsen, Director, Business Development, ASI Mining, to find out what effect the investment will have on the US-based company.

IM: What does ASI get out of the Epiroc deal?

DL: It’s fair to say ASI has been looking for an investment partner for some time. There has been plenty of offers out there, but we have tried to be selective in finding an investment partner where there are lots of synergies and strategic alignment.

We felt Epiroc was not only a good equity partner, but an excellent strategic fit as well. What we get – in addition to the investment – is a lot of alignment with our OEM-agnostic approach and independence, which Epiroc is preserving. But, primarily, we get access to Epiroc’s global footprint from a service and support aspect; we’re able to support the needs of any customer around the world as Epiroc has customer centres in almost any area where there is active mining. Then, we get access to some of their best practices and know-how, which we will be able to leverage as appropriate.

We’re also looking at having tighter integration of some of their autonomous solutions with our Mobius solution.

IM: How will you continue to differentiate your autonomous solutions from others in the market?

DL: As competition increases, we have to compete on the merits of our system, capabilities and ability to provide service and support and attend to all the needs of our customers.
Regardless of our competition, our play is always to become the best provider in the space.

Epiroc is a great company, is very well managed, and has a great business model, vision and strategy. As we leverage some of their capabilities and work together in some of these areas, it will make us a better company for sure.

We would hope that our solutions are a better fit with the interests of our mining customers. There are several advantages – flexibility in terms of vehicle types, leveraging existing investments the sites have made and an ability to work on a more customised basis with our customers. We will continue to seek solutions that are predicated on customer needs. Because of our independence, it gives us some unique advantages to be able to play to those customer needs compared with some of our competitors.

IM: Automation seems to be getting a mention in the mining space every other day; how receptive are you finding companies to automation at the moment?

DL: My sense is that we are in a third wave, if you will. We had a first wave with some of the early adopters, then a second wave with adopters in Western Australia and some of the key Tier 1 mining companies. This third wave is pushing down into more of the mid-tier and junior miner space, which is showing a genuine appetite for leveraging some of the benefits of autonomous vehicles.

We definitely see more of a general acceptance to automation. I think there has been a notion that these systems are really expensive and difficult to implement, hence something only the Tier 1 mining companies have access to. Our message is we are trying to make this accessible to not just the Tier 1s but small miners too. As that awareness is gaining, we are seeing an awakening and acceptance that, a) automation would benefit their operations and, b) it is more accessible to them than they might think.

There are some sites out there dealing with labour or cost constraints. Where some projects might be marginal under traditional mining models, as they re-look at them through an autonomous capability, they may actually be able to justify the investment. We see some of that happening where folks are re-evaluating the viability of projects.

It’s not just cost reduction for existing operations; it is also looking to new opportunities through the lens of autonomy to make a marginal project more attractive.

IM: Anything else to add?

DL: I’m sure there is some curiosity around the market (in regards to the Epiroc deal) and what it means for our business. We’ve received a lot of feedback from customers saying this is a real smart move, and it will certainly complement and help the business. We talk about the fact that it will enable us to grow faster and part of that is by having access to an established global footprint and resources across the globe.

What we did not want to happen was to take on an investment from an OEM that simply gobbles our technology up and incorporates it into their own solution…Epiroc made it clear from the outset that it was not their intent. They valued our business model and wanted to help facilitate it. That was a real key consideration for us.

IM also heard Helena Hedblom, Epiroc’s Senior Executive Vice President Mining and Infrastructure, talk about the deal last month. You can read what she said here.