Battle for greenfield mining autonomy

Two global giants in autonomous mining truck solutions continue to battle it out to chase new contracts for greenfield mines.

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Sep 10, 2019
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Story by International Mining

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 following this link: https://im-mining.com/truck-and-shovel/

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