Tag Archives: mine automation

Sandvik recognises OEM ‘first’ with AutoMine for Underground Drills introduction

Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions is introducing AutoMine® for Underground Drills, a cutting-edge tele-remote solution that, it says, enables operators to remotely and simultaneously control and supervise multiple automated Sandvik underground drills, increasing efficiency, safety and overall productivity in mining operations.

With AutoMine for Underground Drills, Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions has become the first OEM to introduce a unified traffic management system for drills, loaders and trucks, according to the company.

Jouni Koppanen, Product Line Manager, Underground Automation at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, said: “Sandvik’s holistic approach to integrate drills, loaders and trucks into the AutoMine system will set a new standard for underground mining efficiency. AutoMine for Underground Drills is another milestone in our commitment to revolutionising out customers’ mining operations. This tele-remote system redefines underground drilling autonomy and safety standards.”

The new offering is available for Sandvik longhole drills (DL) series machines, offering three levels of teleremote operations: single drill, drill fleet and machine fleet. Operators have the flexibility to choose between operating from an AutoMine chair or console station, depending on which offering level best suits their operational requirements.

The AutoMine for Underground Drills teleremote system includes advanced tramming capabilities, allowing seamless control and coordination of drills, loaders and trucks operating in the same area with sophisticated traffic management, the company added.

Prioritising safety, AutoMine incorporates an enhanced Access Protector System. This safety feature is designed to prevent personnel from entering the machine area while the system is operating in automation mode or remote mode. In addition, it also has an advanced traffic management system that enables operators to easily control the traffic flow of multi-machine operations and handle complex operating situations, resulting in greater flexibility and mining output.

Sami Anttila, Product Manager, Longhole Production Drilling at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, said: “We have developed this system to offer our customers a deeper integration and cooperation in between the underground drills, the loading and hauling machines and especially the AutoMine environment. This means added value through improvements in machine and fleet flexible utilisation in remote operation.”

Sandvik’s history of providing proven underground solutions with automation for loading and hauling dates back to 2004. Today, more than 1,000 underground and surface units operate worldwide at more than 100 customer sites, underlining Sandvik’s commitment to delivering reliable and innovative AutoMine solutions for mining.

Woodsmith-MTS-Anglo

Anglo American lays out 5 Mt/y Woodsmith polyhalite plan ahead of full design review

This week, Anglo American hosted an investor and analyst day at its in-development Woodsmith project, in the UK, with several key technology takeaways cropping up from an in-depth presentation from Tom McCulley, CEO, Crop Nutrients.

In reviewing progress and the past, McCulley stated that Anglo has decided to start Woodsmith as a 5 Mt/y operation, with a staged ramp-up planned to the 13 Mt/y rate. The plan to sink 1,600 m production and service shafts, establish a mechanised mine, construct the 37-km-long underground tunnel and build a materials handling facility with priority access export facilities remain part of this. The potential to phase ventilation & production level development within the underground mine, potential to phase conveyor upgrades in the underground tunnel and the potential to carry out a phased expansion as required for the export facilities are all options for the 13 Mt/y blueprint.

This change has required some of the scope to go back to study phase – hence the reason why Anglo has been mooting detailed design reviews and non-critical path studies – looking at how to optimise investment and modularise the construction to get maximum value from each phase, McCulley said.

“I feel far more comfortable today about how we are setting up the project for the long-term success but managing in a capital efficient way,” McCulley said during his presentation.

Some of the elements keen observers have been watching at Woodsmith are related to mechanised underground development – both vertical (via shaft sinking) and horizontally (via tunnel boring machines (TBMs) for the 37-km-long tunnel).

TBM-led tunnel transformation

In terms of the latter, Anglo American is soon expecting to set a World Record for the longest TBM tunnel developed by a single TBM. This is currently set at 25.8 km, with the Woodsmith team having already reached the 25-km (25.3 km) mark.

“Beyond this we will pass our next intermediate shaft at Ladycross, where we will take a 3-4 month maintenance pause as we set up the TBM for the final push to 37 km, and we expect to reach the Woodsmith mine in late 2026,” McCulley said.

The machine used at Woodsmith is a Herrenknecht hard-rock TBM that, McCulley says, works similarly to the Shaft Boring Roadheaders (SBRs) being used for shaft sinking (more on that soon) in that it cuts the soils, without blasting, and the material is transported through the machine and out of the tunnel via a conveyor that is part of the TBM.

“In addition to excavating the material, the TBM also simultaneously lines the tunnel via pre-cast concrete segments (six segments make up a ring around the circumference of the tunnel); these concrete segments are fabricated at the Teesside port by a project dedicated facility,” McCulley said.

He said in every measure the tunnelling on the project to date has been an amazing success, aided by a solid team performance. This team is made up of contractors from Strabag, Herrenknecht and Anglo’s in-house personnel.

Progress has been aided by consistent ground conditions across the tunnel within what is called Mudstone strata, McCulley said.

“These conditions are very predictable and cutting is easy for the machine which minimises the bearing wear, which is a key risk area for the TBM,” he said. “This consistent strata has allowed us to switch our strategy from three TBMs to one TBM for the entire 37 km, which means we will not only pass the World Record, but we will also smash it when we reach Woodsmith in late 2026. This reduction in TBMs had a knock-on impact of saving significant capital over what was originally planned.”

Anglo is consistently seeing average rates increase to over 20 m/d and trending closer to 25 m/d, which compares favourably with about 16-17 m/d in late 2021.

Tom McCulley-Anglo American
Tom McCulley, CEO, Crop Nutrients

SBRs on the up

Mine development via TBMs is relatively proven when compared with the use of Herrenknecht SBRs for shaft sinking in mining, with Woodsmith representing only the third deployment of the technology in mining following Jansen (BHP) and Nezhinsky (Slavkaliy).

Anglo has two SBRs on site at Woodsmith, sinking the production and service shafts at the project. Redpath, which carried out the shaft sinking work at Nezhinsky, is steering developments at these two shafts, in addition to the material transport system shaft. Only the much deeper production and service shafts are being sunk via mechanised means with the SBRs.

Overseeing this and all developments at the operation is Worley as an engineering, procurement and construction management contractor.

Sinking of the service shaft began in September-October 2022, followed some six months later with activities at the production shaft. McCulley said these two were now around 550-m deep and 340-m deep, respectively.

“We typically see more daily meters from the production shaft due to the service shaft lessons being applied to the production shaft, so I’m excited as I think we may have a race to polyhalite!” he said. “We are very pleased with the progress made on both shafts since Redpath started sinking in 2022.”

On the advantages associated with using SBRs, McCulley said: “Some of the primary benefits of these machines is they are inherently safer than traditional sinking. They also eliminate the need for explosives, which is a huge benefit to us with the community as we don’t encounter noise complaints experienced in other mines. I expect these machines to be the future of shaft sinking. They are just safer, quicker and more predictable.”

The SBR is generally working in autonomous mode for most of the time following a program with pre-set parameters for cutting, according to McCulley, who said the company is expecting an average rate of 1 m/d in each shaft over the full 1,600-m length of the shafts.

“This 1 m/d includes all routine maintenance and what we call non-routine work, like installing water cubbies for pumping water out of the shafts, probe drilling, tubbing and grouting,” he said.

“Ultimately, this is the right machine for the job at Woodsmith and the cutting rates we achieve are 1.5-2 times what we would do with traditional methods.”

Looking at current sinking progress and plans to hit the orebody in 2027 in the service shaft (with the production shaft being six months behind that), McCulley pointed out a 250-m section of sinking in Sherwood Sandstone, which the company expects to reach next year.

“This 250 m of strata will see our rates reduced from our 1 m/d to something between 0.5 m and 0.75 m a day, and this will impact us for most of next year and early 2025,” McCulley said. “Once through that strata, we do not expect any further issues with the ground conditions significantly impacting production.”

The Sherwood Sandstone is characterised as a strata of highly competent rock, about 120 Mpa, according to McCulley, which is at the top end of the SBR rock hardness capacity given by Herrenknecht.

In addition to the hardness, this strata has the potential for some water fissures (ie cracks in the rock with high pressure water), according to McCulley.

“The good news for us is we hit a 2.5-m layer of this material a few weeks ago and we learned from this that we need to make some adjustments to our cutter heads and cutting picks, and now we are far more prepared than we would have been otherwise,” he said. “We are also prepared with alternative plans, including potential use of lasers, plasma blasting and/or microwaves if needed, but we expect our updated cutter head and next generation picks, developed by Element 6 of De Beers, will cut through the rock at the rates I previously mentioned. In addition, to the hard rock, this strata has a risk of high-water flows in small sections of the strata so we will need to seal the shaft via grout from the shaft. This means as we come across water, we will inject chemical grout into the fractures to block water bearing cavities and control water inflow.”

Adding to McCulley’s confidence is the fact that the nearby Boulby mine encountered the same strata some time ago, which that team progressed through via the same exact grouting technique Woodsmith is planning today.

In terms of priorities for 2023, McCulley said the team expected the service shaft to be between 650-700 m at the end of the year, versus the current circa-550 metres today, whereas the production shaft could reach 450 m by this point.

“Both shafts, if they hit the numbers noted will exceed our planned targets for the year,” he said.

“The MTS shaft and Ladycross shafts are both sunk, and we are working to fit them out during the remainder of the year. In the tunnel we have driven 4.3 km this year, we are at 25.3 km and we expect to reach 27 km, which is our stretch target for the year.”

For 2024, while Anglo continues to work through the studies, it doesn’t see any changes to its plans right now and still expects to be around the $1 billon capex number for the next few years.

McCulley added: “Our vision at Woodsmith with regards to technology is to ultimately develop a peopleless underground mine, where operations and maintenance are all controlled from the surface. This is a journey, but many technologies are already out there, we just need to put the system in place and the wherewithal to help the vendors take the next step. This will not happen from the start, but with our vision and with the team we have in place, I have no doubt that in the future this vision will become a reality.”

When at full production, Woodsmith will be a FutureSmart Mine with all the modern technologies, according to McCulley, with these characteristics ensuring the company has a low cost, high volume mine for many years to come. Continuous miners are expected to be used in a room & pillar mining application, combined with mine cars, shuttle cars or conveyors.

“On top of the mining/processing technology, I see some interesting parallels with the farming industry. They are rapidly adopting technologies, and we are very well placed to support this transition in areas like sensing, scanning, AI, etc. I think with our Anglo American Woodsmith project experience in technology we are uniquely positioned to help support this transition in farming and this is something that will have added value to our product for years to come.”

Whitehaven Coal moves into final year of AHS development at Maules Creek

Close to three-and-a-half years after commencing autonomous haulage operations at its Maules Creek coal operation in New South Wales, Australia, Whitehaven Coal is set to soon decide on whether to adopt the automated haulage system (AHS) or discontinue its pilot program, the company said in its just released FY2023 results.

Back in July 2018, Hitachi Construction Machinery Co Ltd and Whitehaven announced the two companies had come to an agreement to implement the first commercial Hitachi autonomous truck fleet at Maules Creek. The collaboration between the two companies entailed scoping the delivery and commissioning of phased 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.

At that point, the two companies said the AHS solution would leverage the fleet management system provided by Hitachi’s Wenco International Mining Systems subsidiary, in addition to Hitachi Construction Machinery’s Smart Mining Truck with Advanced Vehicle Stabilisation Controls using Hitachi robotics, AC motor and drive control unit technologies. The Blockage management system from Hitachi’s railway business would also play a role in this solution, as would a sensing technology and navigation system developed in Hitachi Group’s automobile industry segment.

Initial on-site testing of Hitachi’s AHS took place in 2019 and the company ramped up these tests to reach the commercial deployment stage. A fleet of six EH5000 trucks and one excavator (an EX3600) then started operation in March 2020, focused on overburden.

In the years that have passed, the company has added more trucks to the program, with 28 of the company’s 300-t-payload EH5000s equipped with AHS as of the end of June 2023. This represents around 60% of the entire truck fleet.

Reporting in its annual results, Whitehaven said there were enhancements underway to improve efficiencies with the AHS system, especially focused on manned/unmanned interactions. It also said there were software upgrades scheduled for its current financial year (to June 30, 2024), while it planned to run two EX8000 excavator fleets with integrated manned coal and waste operations.

These actions followed a rise in operating costs across the company during the 2023 financial year. When it comes to Maules Creek, the company noted operational constraints driven by labour shortages, congestion arising from limited dumping locations while maintaining separation of manned and unmanned AHS fleets, as well as productivity impacts and disruptions from weather and in-pit water management.

“Maules Creek delivered run of mine coal production of 9.6 Mt in FY 2023, 15% below FY 2022,” the company added.

After several years of development, Whitehaven expects to make a decision on whether to fully embrace AHS operations at Maules Creek in its current financial year.

It said: “Development of the AHS will continue this year, which is expected to place continued constraints on production at Maules Creek. Depending on the success of this final year of AHS development, a decision will be made to adopt AHS at Maules Creek or discontinue the pilot program.”

Hexagon, MinRes to ‘transform mining’ with autonomous road train developments

Hexagon AB has signed a major agreement with diversified mining company Mineral Resources (MinRes) to provide an autonomous haulage solution for a fleet of road trains to run at the Onslow iron ore project in Western Australia, which, the companies say, will transform safety, productivity and sustainability in the region.

The world-first, fully autonomous road trains are a full-site, truck-agnostic solution, leveraging positioning, onboard autonomy and by-wire, fleet management, collision avoidance, world perception and autonomous mission management solutions from Hexagon.

These solutions will be added to Kenworth 330 t road trains (coming with three trailers each), which will run autonomously on MinRes’ 150 km private haul road.

This agreement builds on two major milestones the companies achieved over the last two years in anticipation of rolling out the fully autonomous road trains at Onslow.

In late 2021, Hexagon and MinRes signed an agreement to develop an autonomous road train solution as part of a plan to unlock “stranded tonnes” in the Pilbara of Western Australia. Then, in April 2022, the companies announced a world-first had been achieved with the successful demonstration of a triple-trailer, automated road train platoon in the Yilgarn of Western Australia – each autonomous road train, in this case, hauling 300 t of iron ore.

Andrew Crose, Vice President, Autonomous Mining, Hexagon’s Mining division, told IM that the speed of adoption of this automated solution – from agreement to demonstration, to planned commercial deployment, in a little over two years – was aided by the abilities and efforts of a global team of Hexagon experts.

“Hexagon has staffed a large multi-national team across the Hexagon technologies stack across Perth (Australia), United States, Brazil, Switzerland and Canada to deliver this technology,” he said.

The companies also worked within the framework of the established Code of Practice for Safe Mobile Autonomous Mining in Western Australia to gain the necessary regulatory approvals to move the project forward at such a pace.

Mike Grey, Chief Executive, MinRes, said in the press release: “Automation will remove the risk of driver fatigue, lower operating costs and reduce fuel use and emissions. There’s enormous potential for these vehicles to transform mining across the world.”

Commissioning of the autonomous road trains is expected to fall in line with the go-live date for Onslow – currently estimated for the first half of 2024.

The road trains form an important part of the 35 Mt/y project, ensuring this tonnage is moved from the mine to the Port of Ashburton.

MinRes has said previously that the autonomous road train technology will initially be adopted for its own mining operations, with a view to offering the solution to its Tier 1 customer base as it grows its Mining Services division.

Hexagon recently expanded its autonomy offering with the acquisition of HARD-LINE; a deal that, Nick Hare, President, Hexagon’s Mining division, says allows the company to provide a scalable automation platform that all mining companies can use and grow with.

ABB on extending mine production and asset life with ventilation on demand

Ventilation on demand not only reduces energy usage and costs in underground mines, it can help extend production and the lifespan of existing infrastructure as part of a suite of electrification and automation solutions, say Marcos Hillal, Global Product Line Manager, Automation, ABB, and Jan Nyqvist, Global Product Manager, Automation Underground Mining, ABB.


By now, many readers will be familiar with ventilation on demand (VOD); what it is, what it does and the multiple benefits it offers mining companies in terms of efficiency, costs, safety and compliance.

Ventilation systems are the largest consumers of power in underground mines, accounting for 50% of energy use. VOD systems linked to the geolocation of people and vehicles intelligently adjust air flow to maximise air quality and minimise consumption. Supplying air into the mine (and expelling exhaust gases) only where and when it is needed can reduce overall energy usage by up to half. It also reduce cooling or heating needs of the circulated air.

Operators of subterranean mines must also comply with increasingly stringent safety regulations related to air quality, ensuring personnel are not exposed to excessive levels of CO, CO2, dust, humidity, toxic blasting and strata gases, and, chiefly, NO, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions from diesel vehicles.

VOD not only supplies fresh air to underground mines, as well as removing spent or contaminated air, it automatically regulates air temperature to keep workers comfortable and safe, not to mention removing the need for them to enter potentially hazardous environments to manually operate fans.

Being smart about ventilation

So far, so good. However, what is not so well understood is how VOD can used to expand production and extend the life of ventilation infrastructure. With energy prices high and declining ore grades forcing operators into more remote, inhospitable locations in search of elusive reserves, technology solutions that can prolong the life of existing mine assets can offer an invaluable competitive edge.

So, how can VOD be applied to expand mine production? The answer is by delivering air even more smartly and efficiently based on actual operational parameters. ABB’s open platform, System 800xA, for example, utilises real-time data transmitted from sensors around the mine on key parameters such as the use of trucks, location of personnel, and gas, flow and temperature information.

ABB’s VOD solution, ABB Ability™ Ventilation Optimizer (VO), uses this data to operate the fans according to actual demands calculated from production schedules, as well as equipment status and location, reducing the amount of air that fans supply to certain sections of the mine by as much as 20-40%.

These savings can then be used to supply air to other sectors where they are needed more, whether that be new, hitherto unexplored places or existing areas where the operator wishes to maintain or increase production. What is more, VOD can do this by using existing infrastructure – ventilation shafts, for instance – which equates to significant savings on capex and manpower for customers.

Take automation to the next level

ABB Ability VO is designed to be integrated into each operation depending on that project’s specific characteristics and existing level of automation – how advanced the existing positioning system or communications backbone is, say – and comprises three separate levels.

Level one is the standard package whereby we connect ABB Ability VO to the ventilation equipment so that the customer can supervise and control the fans and air regulators remotely. They have the option to add further automation, meaning that the system can automatically adjust air flow based on the mine’s time and production schedule and, also, in the event of a fire or blasting in the mine.

In level two, positioning tools such as tracking on demand are integrated in the mine systems to pinpoint the exact location of vehicles, machines and people based on the production schedule, so the ventilation system throughout the mine can be automatically adjusted based on air flow levels.

Finally, level three is full automation or ‘closed loop’ ventilation. An algorithm computes the optimal operational set points on all the fans and regulators depending on demand and sensors continuously feedback data, allowing the system to optimise air flows and air quality, and minimise energy usage.

By introducing three implementation stages, VO system also gives customers time to adapt their processes and people so that the system can be fully integrated for maximum results.

A suite of scalable solutions

VO should not be viewed as an isolated solution, however; instead, it forms part of a portfolio of scalable, interconnected digital and automation technologies that together give operators complete control of a multitude of functions, from dewatering the mine to material tracking.

Future innovations include online monitoring to ensure the ventilation system is working in the most optimal way. In terms of scalability, since VO is based on our market leader 800xA platform, other advanced solutions can be integrated, such as ABB’s asset management and power monitoring systems, so mines can benefit from the company’s full range of ABB’s dedicated solutions for underground mine operations, all under one single integrated platform.

In this way, VOD forms part of a package of digital, automation and electrification technologies that, when deployed together, can transform underground mines into safer, more efficient environments.

RCT supplies teleremote dozing solution to multi-metal mine in Finland

RCT says it has deployed a state-of-the-art teleremote dozer at a multi-metal mine in Finland looking to further automate the mine site and improve overall employee wellbeing.

The ControlMaster® technology on the Cat D11T dozer was chosen for numerous reasons, including its durability, interoperability and high level of customer support, RCT said.

“The site experiences extreme temperatures and has legislation in place surrounding dust control,” RCT’s BDM, Mike Thomas, explained.

This legislation, while necessary for operators’ health, significantly reduces the amount of time employees work each day while operating manually from the cab of the machine.

The mine site was after a solution, and they looked to RCT for one that addressed all their requirements, the company said. Implementing RCT’s ControlMaster Teleremote technology removes the operator from the machine itself and relocates them to a safe, ergonomic working environment. In this instance, workers are relocated to a state-of-the-art automation centre within the mine operations, keeping them safe from harsh weather conditions and exposure to dust.

“The technology is extremely robust, which means it can operate effectively in extreme weather conditions such as the -50°C experienced on site,” Thomas said. “It’s fit-for-purpose, designed to cater to mining clients, all over the world.

“In addition to this, ControlMaster is extremely flexible with third-party networks and other solutions which is what makes the technology stand out from competitors.”

The technology has been well received on-site with all operators very happy with the implementation, according to RCT, with the new way of working on site fully embraced by operators.

“They are investing in their future and the way to do work to look after their employees now and in the future,” Thomas added.

Hexagon buys HARD-LINE, bringing scale to interoperable autonomy puzzle

Hexagon has agreed to acquire Canada-based tele-remote operations leader HARD-LINE, bringing into its offering all the elements it needs to compete in the autonomous haulage system (AHS) space.

At HxGN LIVE Global 2023 in Las Vegas last month, Hexagon’s Mining division said it was enhancing its relationship with the company, building on a previous distribution agreement the two companies announced back in September 2021.

Now, the two companies have agreed to combine their expertise to achieve their ultimate autonomy goals.

Speaking to IM about the deal, Nick Hare, President, Hexagon’s Mining division, said: “It’s an absolute win for all stakeholders. It is good for us as it enables us to deliver on both safety and autonomy, core to our mission, with HARD-LINE’s considerable experience filling in technology gaps in remote control and its considerable library of interfaces on vehicle by-wire. It’s good for HARD-LINE, giving them access to our sales, distribution and support base in 50 different countries; and, most importantly, it is good for the customers, ensuring that they have an interoperable, OEM-independent partner to rely on.”

Walter Siggelkow, President of HARD-LINE, said he saw the combination of HARD-LINE’s mine operator market knowledge and Hexagon’s suite of products and global presence providing the “world’s first truly integrated autonomous solution”.

He told IM: “Hexagon and HARD-LINE share a common vision that autonomy can be accomplished without starting over. The advanced technologies to extend this capital investment is now available. We are completely confident that this is a perfect fit.”

HARD-LINE says it has developed “by-wire vehicle control solutions” for more than 200 equipment models covering several OEMs over the last 27 years, with more than 3,000 conversions of its platform completed to date, including its renowned TeleOp system. On top of its remote-control solutions, it also provides related network infrastructure to enable the tele-remote operation of heavy machinery from a secure control station on the surface or underground, regardless of distance.

Hexagon, meanwhile, has a significant autonomy stack, including the HxGN Autonomous Mining Mission Manager solution choreographing the movement of autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles, and mine production activities through one interface; the World Perception solution to enable object detection, operator vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-person awareness; as well as on-board infrastructure such as sensors and antenna.

Hare estimates Hexagon is already the biggest provider of autonomy solutions for off-road heavy industry, but he believes this latest deal will accelerate the realisation of its autonomy ambitions in mining: providing a scalable automation platform that all mining companies can use and grow with.

“Now we have the ability to move the machines, this creates a complete OEM independent solution from one partner,” he said. “You will start to see us go head-to-head on most projects with other AHS providers. The key – and we feel the differentiator for customers – is that we will be matching this with our ability to safely deliver customer success.

“A lot of AHS implementations have enabled companies to move more tonnes, but the return on investment hasn’t always been there. We intend to change that.”

The potential impact Hexagon can make on the AHS market from acquiring HARD-LINE is inevitably the highlight of this deal, but it also has positive ramifications for its latest product offerings, including HxGN Underground Mining, HxGN Autonomous Mining and the HxGN MineProtect solutions.

Hare implied the HARD-LINE platform – when integrated with the Minnovare drilling solutions the company recently acquired – could also see it expand into autonomous underground drilling solutions.

BHP completes autonomous haulage milestone at South Flank iron ore mine

South Flank’s fifth Autonomous Operating Zone (AOZ) has gone live, marking the completion of the original project scope for implementation of autonomous haulage at the major miner’s newest iron ore mine, BHP says.

The project has been safely delivered ahead of schedule and under budget, testament to the hard work and dedication of the embedded project teams from Western Australia Asset Projects, IPRO (Integrated Production and Remote Operations) and TROC (Technology Remote Operations Centre), Komatsu technical support, and South Flank’s Mining Production and Mobile Equipment Maintenance teams, it added.

Through their coordinated efforts, South Flank is now fully autonomous for its primary haul fleet, with 41 Komatsu 930e haul trucks converted and around 185 pieces of ancillary equipment able to operate safely around them in the site’s five Autonomous Operating Zones (AOZs).

“The carefully phased approach we took to bringing autonomous haulage online has ensured a safe transition through the complications of a mixed operation,” Steve Campbell, General Manager of South Flank, said.

“With our on-site IPRO facility at full capacity and both primary crushers accepting autonomous dumping, we can now start to bed in the productivity, cost and maintenance improvements that autonomous haulage delivers through the increased truck hours and more consistent cycle times. I am confident that more improvements will be realised as we optimise autonomous haulage across South Flank.”

South Flank committed to transitioning to autonomous haulage in January 2022, less than a year after first production, and began converting the first trucks in April that year, as well as recruiting and training for the new roles required for autonomous haulage operation. Many of the mine’s existing employees have been upskilled, BHP added.

The first AOZ went live in June 2022, and project scope has been steadily progressed since then, including construction of the temporary on-site IPRO facility, upgrades to network infrastructure and the delivery of almost 3,000 training modules to enable people to work safely in and around the autonomous fleet. The project team continue to support Autonomous Haulage at South Flank during optimisation and ramp up.

South Flank is 156 km northwest of Newman and 9 km south of BHP’s Mining Area C facility in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. It is Australia’s largest new iron ore mine in more than 50 years. When it merges with the neighbouring Mining Area C operation, it will form the largest operating iron ore hub in the world, producing 145 Mt of iron ore each year.

U&M and Hexagon ready to deploy AHS solution at Brazil mine

U&M Mineração e Construção S/A, as the largest native open-pit mining contractor in the Americas and one increasingly focused on sustainability, is about to embark on a major autonomous haulage project that could prove transformational for all sizes of mine sites across the globe.

The company has been busily working on an in-house Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) for several years, enlisting the help of Hexagon’s Mining division back in 2020 to ensure what it delivered to the market was a commercial proposition with widescale applicability, IM discovered this week at HxGN LIVE Global 2023 in Las Vegas.

Now the companies are ready to deploy their combined OEM-agnostic AHS solution at a mine in Brazil, starting next month, as part of a plan to bring two AHS-enabled retrofitted Caterpillar 777 trucks to the operation.

The collaboration is seeing U&M carry out all mechanical changes to the 100-ton-class payload trucks to make them automation-ready without disturbing the OEM system. The contractor is also in charge of the navigation system and software that the trucks will run on – the ‘autonomous driver’ as it could be termed.

Hexagon, for its part, provides the HxGN Autonomous Mining Mission Manager Solution to optimise the movement of autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles, and mine production activities through one interface; the World Perception solution to enable object detection, operator vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-person awareness; and some additional on-board infrastructure – such as sensors and an antenna.

This, according to the companies, makes for an autonomous contractor solution that can be rolled out anywhere in the world.

“What we are creating is a scalable platform that can be used on any truck,” Mauricio Casara of U&M says

“The first project may involve Cat 777s, but what we are creating is a scalable platform that can be used on any truck,” Mauricio Casara, Commercial Director at U&M, told IM. “We are looking to improve on the legacy AHS solutions by making automation available to any size of mine with any type of trucks.”

As part of the company’s R&D work to this point, it has also retrofitted an autonomous solution on a Komatsu 730E, with that truck running at its proving grounds in Brazil.

Interestingly for this proof of concept involving the two Cat 777s, the plan is to enable the trucks to interact with both autonomous and manned vehicles in the haulage cycle from the off: an interaction that the traditional AHS providers have only just started to work on after more than a decade of industry deployments.

This is just one of the hurdles the solution will overcome, according to Andrew Crose, Vice President, Autonomous Mining, Hexagon’s Mining division.

“The world perception sensor stack that we have on board these machines will allow us to distinguish between trucks, light vehicles, berms, people and many other objects,” he said. “By leveraging this, we can ensure the trucks operate as safely as possible while being as productive as possible. That is key to achieving buy-in from all stakeholders involved.”

While the official partnership for this project was not signed until 2020, U&M has been utilising the GNSS positioning smarts of Hexagon – through the NovAtel business it acquired – for many more years.

This same GNSS solution is being leveraged in the two-strong autonomous truck trial along with V2X, 4D Radars,  ultra-wideband time-of-flight systems and more.

Crose added: “It’s worth mentioning that around 60% of the autonomous machines running in the field have some Hexagon solution on them. We are sometimes providing the positioning, world perception, fleet and mission management, onboard autonomy and by-wire, all part of our interoperable strategy.”

While this initiative is inevitably going to pique the interest of those companies in charge of running these autonomous trucks, U&M has no plans to compete with the likes of Caterpillar and Komatsu when it comes to manufacturing automation-ready trucks.

“There are so many existing trucks out in the field that our clients are running; all of which can be retrofitted with the solution we are working on,” Casara said. “The whole industry talks about sustainability and how to mine sustainably, but the sustainable solution to achieving autonomous operations is not to build brand new trucks and equip them for automation; it is to retrofit the smarts onto them to enable that automation.

“This is the sustainable way to roll out the automation needed across the sector to achieve mining companies’ productivity and decarbonisation goals.”

Hexagon’s Mining and Autonomy & Positioning divisions to combine expertise

Hexagon at HxGN LIVE Global 2023, in Las Vegas, has announced that its Mining and Autonomy & Positoning divisions have joined forces to enable more automation at scale, and ease and speed of application.

The announcement, coming at the Intelligent Mining Summit, was made by Nick Hare, President, Hexagon’s Mining division, and Maria Luthström, President, Hexagon’s Autonomy & Positioning division.

“We’re bringing together our best solutions…to enable autonomy at scale; make it simple to implement and make it (automation) easy to use,” Hare said.

The formation of Hexagon’s new autonomous solutions partnership aims to create the world’s largest provider of autonomous solutions for off-road, heavy industries, according to Hare.

The company’s Autonomy & Positioning division leverages positioning technology and products from its brands NovAtel, AutonomouStuff and VERIPOS to, it says, bring together cutting-edge positioning solutions for applications that require autonomy and positioning. Its positioning solutions are already being used across mining for many applications.