Austmine talks to several of its member companies about how fleet management services have evolved in the three decades since the founding of the industry body.
Traditionally, mining is viewed as an industry averse to change.
However, the mining fleet provides a prime example of where METS technology has been
Not only has the development of mining’s mobile equipment led to significant innovation in design and construction, we are one of the only industries that can boast the successful implementation of autonomous vehicles.
To find out how far the METS sector has pushed mining fleet technology forward, Austmine recently gathered the thoughts of industry leaders Maptek, RCT, Resolution Systems and Hexagon.
Fleet management: 30 years ago
Manual entry and incomplete information were the norm for fleet management 30 years ago. This proved to be an obstacle to productivity.
Dave Holman, head of product and optimisation at RCT, provides his view of this situation.
“Mining’s fleet management practices relied upon manually entering all forms of data such as productivity, destinations and assigned tasks,” Holman says.
“This information would be written on a plod sheet and manually entered into fairly basic programs. This was very time consuming and information often did not make it to managers in a timely manner, which generally resulted in inefficiencies.”
Reflecting on the initial view of fleet management systems, Marcelo Romero, business development director, operations at Hexagon’s mining division discusses the difficulty in changing mindsets to new technologies.
“Thirty years ago, few miners were familiar with computer systems and fleet management systems (FMS) weren’t thought to be a game-changer,” Romero says.
“The big challenge was to convince mine managers that FMS could increase productivity and reduce operational costs significantly. Miners tended to resist innovation. The joke used to be that a customer could park a truck and get the same productivity.”
What has changed in fleet management?
It is now clear that powerful, computer-driven systems are no joke.
According to Peter Johnson, managing director and chief executive officer of Maptek, developments in technology and its application to the mining industry have generated significant value for operators.
“The application of GPS and improvements in communication technologies have made FMS considerably more spatially aware and accurate during the early part of the 2000s,” Johnson says.
“As a result, FMS were able to become more specific about material types, locations and vehicle interactions.
“Early FMS have been largely superseded by far more advanced communications technology and equipment integration, allowing automated collection of data such as machine health, load state, material type and quantity, location, task and more.”
What challenges are we still facing?
Despite substantial technological progress, mobile equipment inefficiencies are still widespread. The mining industry has far more work to do.
Tom Cawley, CEO of Resolution Systems, points towards data availability and quality as a major reason for this.
“Since their inception, FMS have made heavy use of human input data. However, the limitations of this data are becoming clear as miners attempt to drive greater operational performance through their technology systems,” Cawley says.
“The future of optimisation and automation needs technologies that avoid the fundamental problem of garbage in, garbage out. Machine Learning algorithms have been shown time and again to exacerbate the issues of poor data quality, not fix them.”
Interoperability and data integration are the other focus area causing headaches for mining companies. To extract maximum value from digital transformation, assets and systems must align across the mine site.
Johnson of Maptek describes the need for a broader approach to optimising operations.
“A holistic, contextualised and validated production data set across a number of stages of the executional value chain needs to be available, and algorithms able to provide meaningful value optimisation need to be deployed at the right points in the process,” Johnson says.
“There remains a pervasive attitude from many equipment manufacturers that enabling access to data and control systems on board their equipment for the purposes of integration with production management information systems is not something that is important.
“This attitude is hampering progress and degrading the quality of systems that miners are able to implement.”
What does the future of fleet management look like?
Mining is on the verge of a revolution. Cawley of Resolution Systems explains why.
“Our industry is in the midst of a convergence. The evolution of communications and cloud processing technologies is enabling a revolution,” Cawley says.
“A revolution driven by a rapidly increasing expectation within the sector that technology should be able to deliver the next wave of productivity improvement.
“We’re already seeing the results. MaxMine (Resolution System’s core product) delivered an uplift of 21 per cent as at March 2019, in a Tier 1, best practice, Australian mine. This has been achieved by using recently available technologies to help operators perform at their best.”
A centrepiece of this revolution is data integration and automation, as described by Holman of RCT.
“Going forward we will make machine data more available to customers which they can then integrate into their own reporting tools to better manage their fleet,” Holman says.
“We are making the data more automated and more commonised across a mixed fleet, with very little manual input. This will reduce inconsistencies and errors.”
Romero of Hexagon’s mining division follows up on this point, linking it to a rise in Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.
“IoT sensors are more popular and affordable now and they will help to provide more advanced automation systems, which can identify machines and people without human interaction,” Romero says.
“Basically, we are moving to the idea of every vehicle, heavy or light, to be part of an autonomous ecosystem capable of making decisions while sharing current and projected decisions with other vehicles.”
Linking fleet management to the value chain
The greatest value from a FMS comes from viewing it as part of an overall optimised mining system, rather than in isolation. Johnson of Maptek describes how they are developing this concept.
“Maptek and Minlog are now able to deliver a technology set of enabling integrated systems covering the entire workflow of tasks from geological modelling, mine planning and design, scheduling and short interval control, fleet management and production data information systems and reporting,” Johnson says.
“This means that near real-time performance information that compares the current state of the mine, and all current activity can be queried and connected back into planning and scheduling systems.
“This means mine schedulers can react to deviations from planned progress with detailed understanding about what has happened and can plan based upon the exact situation in real time. This is a fast feedback loop for delivering mining outcomes to plan.”
Austmine is proud to be celebrating 30 years of support and advocacy for the Australian METS sector. As we lead up to our anniversary date in November 2019, we will be examining the significant transformations and key innovations driven by Australian METS and their effect on the global mining industry.
This article also appears in the October edition of Australian Mining.