Tag Archives: Whitehaven Coal

Hitachi to trial autonomous tech on ultra-large hydraulic excavators in Australia

Hitachi Construction Machinery (HCM) is looking at trialling autonomous ultra-large hydraulic excavators at an Australia mine site as part of a series of verification tests.

The tests, set to begin from the start of the 2021 financial year (from April 1, 2021), are geared towards improving future mining site safety and productivity, HCM said.

“The remote controlled ultra-large hydraulic excavator will be developed in order to improve the working environment and ensure the safety of operators,” the company stated. “This excavator will be equipped with operator support systems, such as a collision avoidance system with other mining equipment, to ensure the same level of operability as with the operator on board the machinery.”

Following the initial development, some part of the excavation and loading operation will be automated to allow a single remote operator to operate multiple ultra-large hydraulic excavators, the company said.

“The incremental development will eventually realise the ultra-large hydraulic excavators with autonomous operation features,” HCM said.

The remote control, driving support system for manned excavators and autonomous operation features are all retrofittable onto the EX-7 series of ultra-large hydraulic excavators to enable mining site customers to use the equipment they currently operate, while supporting autonomous operation at mining sites in the future, HCM said.

The company explains: “Mining resources including iron ore and copper sustain the activities of global industries, and the sites which mine these resources are required to operate in a stable manner 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“In contrast, the operators of ultra-large hydraulic excavators are required to repeatedly perform complex operations for a long period of time while paying attention to avoid collision with surrounding equipment and the stability of the vehicle, in order to excavate and load mining resources in an efficient manner.”

Because the safety and productivity of ultra-large hydraulic excavator operation largely depends on the operator’s skill and experience, building a production system that does not depend on these skills and reduces the operator’s workload are important issues at mining sites, it said.

Such developments have been coming from the group considering the company entered the mining machinery business in the late 1970s, and has made leaps in tele-remote operations of excavators within other sectors.

For example, the company used a remote-controlled unmanned excavator to advance the development of technologies in the reconstruction work at Mount Unzen Fugen-dake volcanic eruption in 1992. In 2013, it also led the industry by advancing the development of technologies for long-distance remote control by remotely operating a hydraulic excavator located in the Urahoro test site, Hokkaido, over an internet connection from approximately 800 km away in Tsuchiura City, Ibaraki Prefecture.

“Now, we have decided to begin verification tests at an actual mining site to advance the development of autonomous driving for ultra-large hydraulic excavators, reflecting the needs of customers,” it said.

The autonomous operation for ultra-large hydraulic excavators can be deployed as a standalone system, or as a part of fleet management system (FMS), such as the Fleet Control from Wenco International Mining Systems, a HCM subsidiary with a solid implementation track record at large-scale mines.

“Our goal is to balance a high degree of safety and productivity by having autonomous operation through sharing the information among the autonomous ultra-large hydraulic excavators, dump trucks and other equipment,” the company said.

Operation support system

Because it is difficult to assess the conditions around the vehicle and the inclination of the vehicle during remote control compared with a manned operation, the actual machinery will be equipped with a collision avoidance system and a vehicle stability monitoring system to reduce the burden on the operator performing the remote control during the verification tests, HCM said.

In addition, Wenco has been advancing the development of an excavator payload monitoring system, which measures the weight of the material inside the bucket, and plans to test this feature at the same time.

Reflecting the needs of actual customers through verification testing will further improve remote control and driving support technologies in ultra-large hydraulic excavators, HCM said.

“These operator support systems can be retrofitted onto the EX-7 series of ultra-large hydraulic excavators and are scheduled to be ready for the market during the 2022 financial year (April 1, 2022 onwards) as systems installed on actual machinery to increase operation safety,” the company said.

Integration with the autonomous haulage system (AHS)

HCM began researching AHS in 2009, with six EH5000 rigid dump trucks now starting 24-hour autonomous haulage at Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal mine in New South Wales, Australia.

Because a diverse and large quantity of manned and unmanned machineries mix together in a large-scale mining operation, the radio communication needed for the operating control must be managed in a stable manner, HCM explained.

“The AHS from Hitachi Construction Machinery runs on the Wenco FMS and utilises various technologies from the Hitachi Group to realise a significant advantage by extending its range of control up to a maximum of 100 vehicles,” the company said.

The goal of autonomous ultra-large hydraulic excavators is to balance a high level of safety and productivity, even in the autonomous mining sites of the future, by sharing information with dump trucks and other machinery.

The Hitachi Construction Machinery Group has thus far been engaged in realising “reliable solutions” to solve social issues as a close and reliable partner for our customers, it said.

“Going forward, we will continue to promote the development of long-distance remote control and autonomous driving, ultra-large hydraulic excavators using ICT and IoT for mining industry customers around the world to help provide the higher level of safety and mine management productivity improvements that our customers require,” the company concluded.

Whitehaven Coal hits automation milestone at Maules Creek mine

Whitehaven Coal says autonomous haulage operations have now commenced at its Maules Creek coal operation in New South Wales, Australia.

In its latest quarterly report to March 31, 2020, the miner said the autonomous haulage system (AHS) started up in the three-month period and autonomous haulage of overburden had commenced.

Back in July 2018, Hitachi Construction Machinery Co Ltd and Whitehaven announced the two 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 this 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 last year and the company has since been ramping up these tests to reach the commercial deployment stage.

As planned, a fleet of six EH5000 trucks and one excavator (an EX3600) started operation last month, Whitehaven said. During the current quarter, additional labour resources will be trained and deployed to allow for seven-day operation of AHS by end of June, according to the miner.

At an investor day presentation in September 2019, Whitehaven Coal Chief Operating Officer, Jamie Frankcombe, said following a six-month period of operating the initial fleet, a transition to one EX8000 excavator and nine EH5000 trucks could occur. Then, additional EX8000 fleets would be added in six-monthly intervals based on “performance gateway” achievements, with a target of five fleets and up to 45 trucks within three years.

This ramp-up of automation comes at the same time Maules Creek is being expanded, with Whitehaven expecting production to go from 11.7 Mt run of mine (ROM) in the year ended June 30, 2019, to 16 Mt/y of ROM coal.

Bis Razor makes the cut for Whitehaven Coal operation

Bis’ latest innovation, Razor, has sparked strong interest from Australia’s mining community shortly after launching, with Whitehaven Coal securing one of the underground graders and another miner committing to taking two units.

The orders follow a product launch in October and a customer roadshow across Queensland and New South Wales in November.

Bis CEO, Brad Rogers, said: “We are delighted in the industry response for Razor, and I am pleased that two long-term customers of Bis are the first to secure the technology. Razor was designed with miners, for miners – offering a step change in efficiency and importantly, operator safety.”

The key features of Razor include high engine power and grader mass that has been optimised to increase tractive effort by over 30%. Bis says it designed the grader with safety front-of-mind, resulting in a modular drivers’ cabin that improves ergonomics and a safer, more reliable, braking system.

The key features of Razor, according to Bis, include:

  • Fifty-five percent greater engine power than comparable machines;
  • Four gears rather than three, giving greater flexibility on difficult ground;
  • The operator compartment layout improves access to all controls and provides greater visibility of the blade and steering tyres;
  • Access to the cab from both sides;
  • Improved structural/fatigue integrity of the chassis; and
  • The braking system incorporates dual SAHR emergency/park brakes directly coupled to the rear drive wheels for increased safety and reliability.

Rogers continued: “Bis is a resources logistics business that is differentiated in the market by our range of patented mining solutions. We harness the talent and experience of our team and design innovations and invest in new technology which delivers efficiency improvements for our customers.”

He said the company has a pipeline of innovations planned for the sector over the coming 12-18 months, with these new products and services adding new markets and geographies to its current portfolio.

The release of Razor comes little over a year after Bis unveiled Rexx, its revolutionary 20-wheel dump truck to the market.

Whitehaven Coal reveals cost benefits of autonomous haulage with Hitachi

At an investor day presentation last week, Whitehaven Coal Chief Operating Officer, Jamie Frankcombe, confronted the topic of autonomous haulage systems (AHS), spelling out why the Australia-based coal miner is planning to leverage this technology at its expanding Maules Creek operation in northwest New South Wales, Australia.

In what was an honest assessment of AHS performance to date, he said miners and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) had made “broad suggestions about the scale of improvements” that came with automating equipment, but the “detailed underpinnings” of these improvements have not been disclosed publicly.

He gave a few reasons why this was the case: First, each mine is structurally different in nature, so performance metrics are not ‘one-size-fits-all’. Second, the underlying performance of each AHS fleet is proprietary information to the operator and OEM.

Despite this, productivity improvements of around 15-20% had been discussed by miners and OEMs – linked to higher availability and utilisation rates in fewer trucks being required – along with anecdotal reports of maintenance savings, tyre life improvement, equipment life improvement and safety benefits.

On the capital expenditure side, AHS was also expected to reduce fleet sizes by allowing more tonnes to be mined with existing equipment.

Frankcombe was speaking about automation at a time when the coal miner is embarking on its own AHS journey.

Back in July 2018, Hitachi Construction Machinery Co Ltd and Whitehaven announced the two had come to an agreement to implement the first commercial Hitachi autonomous truck fleet at the Maules Creek coal operation in northwest New South Wales, Australia.

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.

The original release was short on detail, but 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 cultivated in Hitachi Group’s automobile industry segment.

In Whitehaven Coal’s results for the six months ending December 31, 2018, it said testing of the Hitachi AHS system had begun and, in August, it confirmed the first fleet trials would take place by the end of June 2020.

During Frankcombe’s presentation to investors, he narrowed down those timelines, saying the Hitachi AHS had been approved for operational implementation, and commissioning and training was to follow in a segregated area of the mine. This was before the mine transitioned to an operational area for AHS from December 2019.

He also said the initial AHS fleet would comprise one EX3600 excavator and six EH5000 trucks. Following a six-month period, a transition to one EX8000 excavator and nine EH5000 trucks would occur, he said. Then, additional EX800 fleets would be added in six-monthly intervals based on “performance gateway” achievements, with a target of five fleets and up to 45 trucks within three years.

This is a rapid ramp-up of automation, but Maules Creek is being expanded over this timeframe, with Whitehaven expecting production to go from 11.7 Mt run of mine (ROM) in the year ended June 30, 2019, to 16 Mt/y of ROM coal. This expansion will also see the company incorporate in-pit dumping into its operations as it looks to lower its operating cost.

Frankcombe went further than a lot of other miners using AHS in outlining the estimated operating cost impact of introducing this technology into the operation.

He said the cost benefit of integrating autonomous haulage into Maules Creek equated to A$3.70-$4.10 ($2.53-2.81) per product tonne – including the related 16 Mt/y expansion.

The operating costs benefits included the direct savings associated with AHS across personnel – offset by AHS service fees – of A$1.40/product tonne, in addition to a A$0.90-$1.10/product tonne impact from increased productivity leading to lower capital intensity and a reduction in fixed costs across overheads, wages, equipment hire and coal handling preparation plant fixed costs.

On the capital benefits side, the low capital intensity of the expansion derived from in-pit dumping, cast blasting and the AHS trucking fleet would drive a capital saving on a unit basis of A$1.40-$1.60/product tonne, he outlined.

Not many other miners have gone into such detail about the cost benefits of AHS.

Of the major adopters, BHP has previously said safety incidents relating to heavy vehicles have fallen by 80% at its Jimblebar iron ore operation, in the Pilbara, while truck productivity has risen 18%. Fortescue Metals Group – on its way to having the world’s first fully-autonomous iron ore fleet – has reported a 32% increase in truck productivity; and Rio has previously said each of its AHS truck operates at a 15% lower load and haul unit cost vs manned trucks.

It will be interesting to see just how accurate Whitehaven’s predictions turn out to be in a few years’ time.

Whitehaven Coal looks to MICROMINE’s Geobank software to find more coal

MICROMINE’s geological data management system, Geobank, has extended its presence in Australia’s coal mining sector by securing a contract with Whitehaven Coal, according to the mining software solutions provider.

One of Australia’s largest independent coal producers, Whitehaven Coal, has implemented Geobank across all of its projects in New South Wales and Queensland, MICROMINE said. The company produced 16 Mt of coal in 2018, contributing to record Australian coal export results.

Geobank is a geological data management software solution that provides a flexible and efficient environment for capturing, validating and managing data, according to MICROMINE.

MICROMINE Senior Geobank Data Management Specialist, Ibo Mango, said Geobank provided an important tool for coal miners to hone, manage and direct their exploration and production processes.

“Geobank helps companies of all sizes to better record, access, review, integrate and utilise their essential geological data,” Mango said. “Problems with inaccurate data are often invisible. Loss of data, poor accessibility or quality control issues can cost millions of dollars and cause inaccurate decision making, especially in a high-yield sector like coal.”

As a strong player in the Australia coal mining industry, and with a major expansion project underway, Whitehaven Coal procured Geobank to provide a robust, flexible data management solution, MICROMINE says. Geobank has adapted to suit Whitehaven’s specific work flow requirements, including data collection, validation and depth adjustment, browsing and advanced reporting needs.

“Geobank’s fully customisable solution provided Whitehaven with extended functionality designed specifically for their exploration and mining needs. Geobank provides specialised utilities for displaying and managing drillhole data,” Mango said.

Geobank also integrates the Australian CoalLog Standard, which was introduced in 2012. Before CoalLog, around 30 different data formats and over 100 different data code translation tables were used in the capture of geological and geotechnical data, which led to major inefficiencies in the collection, transfer, and analysis of coal borehole data.

Members of MICROMINE’s Geobank team played a role in the development of CoalLog and ensured its integration into Geobank’s suite of products.

Innovators and disruptors heading to AIMEX 2019

Technological advancements, workforce changes, community collaborations and environmental challenges are just some of the concepts that will be discussed at Asia-Pacific’s International Mining Exhibition (AIMEX) 2019 edition, in August.

Focused on the future of Australia’s mining industry, AIMEX is the country’s largest and longest running mining exhibition and conference, according to organisers.

Speakers and key topics of the free-to-attend conference have been announced, with the line-up for the three-day event set to provide visitors with a “unique opportunity to hear from mining innovators and disruptors at the same venue where the technology is on show”, the organisers said.

Sponsored by Davey Bickford Enaex, the AIMEX conference has been developed with direct input and consultation from key mining personnel, industry associations as well as key mining companies.

On the opening day, a panel of speakers from across the mining spectrum will dissect the industry’s image and discuss ways that the mining sector and the community can work more collaboratively together in the future. Mach Energy’s Ngaire Baker, Mark Jacobs from Yancoal, Dr Kieren Moffat from the CSIRO and Anna Littleboy from the University of Queensland will lead the discussion.

Ngaire Baker, External Relations Manager for MACH Energy, said it is crucial the mining sector demonstrates the value it can offer communities, especially in regional and rural areas.

“I’ve worked and lived in some of Australia’s most remote mines and mining towns, combined with towns such as Orange, Parkes and Singleton, in New South Wales; I have experienced first-hand just how vital it is for the mining industry to look after these communities and to do our jobs to the best of our ability so that both parties reap the benefits,” Baker said.

“The mining industry can bring so many benefits to regional areas and to have the opportunity to discuss these very important issues with experts from all sides of the spectrum at the AIMEX conference is invaluable.

“I have been attending AIMEX since the mid ’90s and I make every effort to connect with suppliers and learn about new technologies that will benefit the operation I am working in. To be able to attend the conference as part of AIMEX is invaluable, we are all time poor and this conference is a key part of the three days of AIMEX, it provides me with a rare opportunity to hear from visionaries, engage with my peers and challenge the current mindset.”

A highlight of day two, organisers say, will be the panel discussion on how the mining community can reinvent its approach to talent acquisition and retention for today’s agile, digital, mobile, analytical, and technologically-driven workforce.

Mining Leaders Group Founder, Brett Cunningham, CEO of Weld Australia, Geoff Crittenden, and Jamie Frankcombe, Whitehaven Coal’s Chief Operating Officer, will lead the thought-provoking discussion that will exchange ideas and share current thinking to prepare for tomorrow’s demands in areas such as recruiting, educating schools, upskilling and diversity.

The organisers said: “Other highlights of the conference include Dr John Cronin’s presentation on using telepresence technologies for the safe deployment of wireless mesh networks and underground inspection robots in mines, cross-industry learnings from the oil & gas industry that define and mitigate HMI risk with technology and analytics, and the final day panel which looks at adapting to climate change, emissions and what does this look like for the mining sector?”

More than 6,000 mining industry professionals and over 500 exhibitors are expected to take over Sydney’s Showgrounds across three days from August 27-29 .

Embedded within the exhibition and conference, five of Australia’s biggest mining companies, Centennial Coal, Glencore, Mach Energy, Whitehaven Coal and Yancoal will for the first time, come together to create the AIMEX Mining Pavilion.

AIMEX Exhibition Director, Brandon Ward, said no other mining event gives you access to this volume of suppliers and this calibre of speakers for free.

“AIMEX is about pushing boundaries and challenging operations and business to innovate not just through technology but through workforce practices, social engagement and policy reform,” Ward said.

“This year’s AIMEX Conference is our most extensive yet which means mining professionals have a forum for open and transparent dialogue that will drive the sector forward.”

Attendance to AIMEX is free for both the exhibition and conference with registrations now open. For a full overview on the AIMEX Conference including session topics and speakers, plus a complete list of exhibitors, visit the event website aimex.com.au.

International Mining is a media partner of AIMEX.

Anglo weighs up use of autonomous haul trucks at Dawson coal mine

Anglo American says it has commenced a study to determine the feasibility of an Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) for a portion of its truck fleet at its open-pit Dawson coal mine, in central Queensland, Australia.

The detailed study to replace 23 trucks with an AHS at Dawson will be finalised towards the end of this year, at which point a decision will be made about whether to proceed, Anglo said.

The timing of the Dawson study is aligned to a key decision on whether to undertake major overhauls on the ageing Cat 797 fleet or replace them, according to Anglo.

Operations at Dawson are made up of three operating pits; North, Central and South. First mined in 1961 for export coal to Japan, it was the first mine to introduce draglines into its operation in 1963, according to Anglo.

Each year, Dawson produces coking, soft coking and thermal coal, using open pit and highwall mining methods. Coal is railed to Gladstone for export to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India.

Chief Executive Officer of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, Tyler Mitchelson, said while no decisions had been made regarding the feasibility of the project, Anglo was conscious of the need to minimise the impact on its workforce.

“We’ve informed our workforce that, if the project proceeds, we would work through redeployment options for impacted employees and there would also be new roles created, leading to training opportunities,” Mitchelson said.

“We also understand the importance of locally-based employment to our communities, and we have reinforced to our community stakeholders that if the project proceeds, our intent is to protect local jobs and continue to undertake measures to encourage people to live locally.”

While AHS has been in use at other mining operations for many years, the technology has now progressed to the stage where Anglo American is assessing the “feasibility of operationalising it in open-pit coal mining”, the company said.

In addition to Anglo, Whitehaven Coal is trialling AHS with partner Hitachi at its Maules Creek operation in northwest New South Wales, Australia.

Anglo’s Mitchelson said the study was part of Anglo American’s FutureSmart Mining™ approach, which applies innovative thinking and technological advances to address mining’s major challenges.

“Anglo American has been at the forefront of embracing innovation to drive the next level of mine performance. This study will focus on whether an AHS has economic and practical application for our Dawson mine, in support of its journey to become a safer and more sustainable mine.”

Mitchelson explained that the company’s study is being run in parallel with a process to assess potential AHS providers.

“The accelerating pace of technological innovation, particularly in the digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence areas, are opening up opportunities for the mining sector to be safer, more productive and sustainable,” he said.

Whitehaven starts testing Hitachi autonomous haulage system at Maules Creek coal op

Whitehaven Coal confirmed in its half-year results that initial on-site testing of Hitachi’s autonomous truck haulage system has commenced at the company’s Maules Creek coal mine in northwest New South Wales, Australia.

The two companies, in July, published an official announcement of the automation tie-up, which entailed scoping the delivery and commissioning of phased Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) deployment for the fleet of Hitachi EH5000AC3 trucks at Maules Creek and the establishment of the physical and technological infrastructure to support AHS capability.

In Whitehaven’s six-month results presentation, today, it said: “Work continues with Hitachi on the autonomous truck haulage system with initial on-site testing having commenced.”

Maules Creek produced 6.2 Mt of run of mine coal in the six months to end-December and is expected to meet guidance of 11.8-12.2 Mt ROM coal for the full year to end-June, 2019, according to Whitehaven.

The company also said the negative cost effects of longer hauls and increased elevation at Maules Creek – as the working area continues to be opened up – would be reversed in the medium term with “in-pit dumping, cast blasting and with the introduction of AHS”.