Caterpillar electrifies the underground with next-gen loader

The equipment manufacturer has jumped on the trend of battery-electric machinery for underground mining with the launch of its R1700 XE loader concept.

Caterpillar has chosen the R1700 underground mining loader as the basis for its first battery electric load-haul-dump (LHD) platform.

The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) put the company’s breakthrough product for the battery-electric sector on display at Bauma in Munich this year as part of an exhibition dominated by its construction equipment.

Caterpillar launched the R1700 loader in 2018 after it proved new levels of productivity and efficiency in extended field trials and in production studies.

The OEM’s field trials for the R1700 included underground sites in Australia. It has also worked with Newmont Mining (now Newmont Goldcorp) at the Tanami mine in Northern Territory on automation trials with the machine over the past year.

The design of the 2018 release focuses on delivering productivity improvements for the R1700’s class size. This is primarily achieved by an efficient electrohydraulic system that saves fuel and provides greater loader forces, providing improved digging performance in the pile.

Caterpillar has combined these features on the R1700 XE with a lithium-ion battery operating and charging system that has been developed in house.

The MEC 500 fast-charging system allows rapid, onboard charging with little or no impact to the mine’s existing electrical infrastructure.

It eliminates both the hazards of battery handling during recharging and the necessity to maintain change-out battery inventories, according to Caterpillar.

The R1700 XE may be the first battery electric LHD for Caterpillar, but the OEM has designed numerous electrified machines and power generation solutions, including the 794 AC and 795F AC mining trucks.

Caterpillar has reinforced the electrification system for underground mining with the development of a proof of concept machine.

The company converted a conventional diesel Cat LHD into a battery electric platform. At the same time, the MEC 500 charging system went through a series of trials. Caterpillar extensively tested both the loader and charging system at its Peoria Proving Ground in the United States, followed by weeks of operation and trials at a customer’s mine in Canada.

Compared with baseline numbers for a diesel-powered R1300 LHD, the battery-powered model delivered a 10-fold decrease in energy costs; nearly eight times less heat generated, significantly less noise at the operator’s ear, immediate torque availability from the electric motors, reduced dust levels attributed to not having a conventional diesel engine radiator fan, and reduced tyre wear.

Caterpillar underground general manager Robert Droogleever says the R1700 has been chosen as the company’s first underground electric machine mainly due to volumes. However, demand from various mining jurisdictions also played a part in the decision.

“It is also (because) the battery requests come mostly out of Canada – they have deeper mines and there are more requests for ventilation,” Droogleever tells reporters at Bauma.

“But actually now we see the same requests come from Peru, from Australia – it is getting more traction but the economics need to make sense.”

Caterpillar is yet to announce a schedule for the battery electric machine’s release.

While Caterpillar revealed plans to introduce the battery electric innovation as the next generation of the R1700, it also used Bauma to promote the advances made on the diesel version launched late last year.

The R1700 features a 20 per cent increase in payload on its predecessor at 20 tonnes, but maintains the same dimensions of the R1700G.

Caterpillar claims a head-to-head study and multiple field trials of the two machines showed the updated vehicle surpasses its payload advantage in faster truck loading and more productive load-and-carry operations, while delivering 21 per cent less fuel consumption per hour.

The Cat R1700 was officially launched in 2018.


The R1700’s fuel consumption has been reduced during the trials through on-demand adjustment of the cooling fan and the hydraulic system, as well as the efficiency of the Cat C13 engine. The turbocharged, air-to-air aftercooled six-cylinder engine produces 269 kilowatt in standard configuration.

Caterpillar released the engine in three different configurations – Cat Ventilation Reduction, US EPA Tier/EU Stage IIIA, and EU Stage V – to allow tailoring of the R1700 to the mine’s ventilation needs.

The OEM focused on developing R1700 as a scalable machine in terms of technology, equipping it with subsystems for rapid implementation, if required.

It has made Autodig optional to help new operators and to reduce fatigue in more experience teams.

Caterpillar MineStar Command for underground manager Randy Schoepke says the OEM has integrated the best of its technologies in the R1700.

“From a technology perspective there are many things that are embedded in the base machine,” Schoepke explains at Bauma.

“From a scalability perspective under the MineStar suite we have got a lot of connectivity offerings for the customer.

“We have everything from automaton, machine health monitoring, personnel detection, collision avoidance, tracking of the machine, fleet management, task management – so basically we are offering the breadth of product from end to end.”

Caterpillar has completed the R1700 automation trial with Newmont at the Tanami mine without yet releasing its findings (at the time of writing). The company has also extensively trialled the machine’s autonomous capabilities at its testing grounds in Tasmania.

Schoepke says Caterpillar will release the outcomes of the testing at the Tanami mine to the marketplace this year. The R1700 is also designed to bring new levels of operator comfort and control to underground operations.

During the load or dump cycle, the harder the operator pushes the controls, the faster the machine responds, according to Caterpillar. The steering system is pilot controlled to provide more precise feel for the operator during manoeuvres in tight places.

For maintenance purposes, the R1700 features several components that have modular designs which can be removed and replaced. In addition to modular components, all filter and key service points have been grouped into a centralised section on the cold side of the engine.

This article also appears in the June edition of Australian Mining.

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