Leading the charge: The electric success of Artisan Vehicles

The PitStop system provides faster battery changing. Image: Artisan Vehicles

Artisan is setting its sights on Australia following North American success with its line of electric-powered underground vehicles. Ewen Hosie reports.

Californian company Artisan Vehicles is preparing to take the next step in its ambitions for growth.

The company has made a name for itself over the last few years with its line of fully electric underground mining vehicles.

Though the company took its first steps in what has since become a fast-emerging sector of the all-electric mining equipment market back in 2011, it truly cemented its public presence at MINExpo 2016 in Las Vegas with the introduction of the A4 load-haul-dump (LHD) underground mining vehicle.

The A4 is the first fully battery-powered vehicle of its type designed from the ground up. Boasting a horsepower capability 300 per cent higher than traditional four-tonne class diesel machines it is packaged in a considerably smaller footprint.

As a bonus, because the vehicles produce zero emissions, they also deliver reduced ventilation and cooling costs in underground environments.

“Eliminating diesel underground is proven to reduce ventilation and cooling expenses,” Artisan chief executive officer Mike Kasaba explains. “But it can also reduce costly production shutdowns caused by high temperatures in the hot summer months.”

The Artisan A4 LHD underground vehicle.

“When we were converting diesel units to battery for major OEM’s we realised that although the conversions were extremely successful, they were still being applied to a vehicle built around diesel,” Artisan account manager Joe Giraldi explains.

“We always knew the true capabilities of our battery electric powertrains and decided to build a vehicle from the ground up around our technology to maximise its potential.”

“That was the birth of our vehicles and we haven’t looked back since,” Giraldi explains.

“We now have our third model available and set to go underground towards the end of the year.”

The vehicle Giraldi refers to is the company’s second loader, the A10. Building on the release of Artisan’s sophomore Z40 40-tonne haul truck earlier this year — which the company cites as the world’s first fully battery-powered haul truck capable of carrying 40 tonnes ever used underground — Artisan is readying its next release, the A10.

Another lithium battery-powered LHD in the same vein as the A4, the A10 promises a 10-tonne carrying capacity in the frame of an equivalent seven-tonne loader, building on the strengths of its smaller predecessor.

“All of our machines not only provide clean zero emission operation, but also move more tonnes every day,” Kasaba explains.

Artisan chief technology officer Brian Huff adds that the A10 has added several new features.

The Artisan team’s early work with Kirkland Lake Gold attracted the mining industry’s attention in a big way; its underground fleet at the Macassa gold mine in northern Ontario currently operates over 80 per cent Artisan product.

“They are definitely the early adopters of this technology,” says Giraldi. “They are the ones that took the chance on putting battery electric vehicles underground and now we’re looking at Macassa approaching 100 per cent completion when it comes to full electric, which is quite amazing.”

One of Artisan’s service bays at an underground site

The A4’s size-to-power ratio was a big selling point of the validity of battery-powered vehicles; offering improved visibility for the operator and better turning radius for navigating tight tunnels.

The A10 builds on the A4 in a number of other ways, too. It is compatible with Artisan’s proprietary in-house PitStop system, a self-loading battery changing system that can swap out a depleted battery for a fully charged one in less than 10 minutes.

This represents a major reduction in downtime when compared to traditional manual swapping methods, which require overhead cranes to complete a battery swap.

“If the choice is to onboard charge, then a good opportunity is to charge it during a lunch break,” Giraldi explains. “So, you work your four hours, take your lunch break, charge it, get back in and finish your eight to 10 hour shift.”

The company eventually aims to move to a completely autonomous charging system that does not require the operator to leave the cab, something that is briefly required of miners using PitStop’s current iteration.

“Our PitStop auto-swap system cuts battery swap time significantly,” says Huff.

“Our new diagnostic systems make repair and maintenance move much faster. We have learned a lot about how best to engineer battery equipment from our seven years in production.

The A10 is loaded with powerful new technologies that operators and technicians will really appreciate.”

The company is keenly eyeing further international expansion, and according to Giraldi, Australia is high on the list.

“Over the last six months we’ve drawn quite a bit of interest from the Australian market so the thought over there is that movement is definitely happening and we’re getting everything in line to start implementing this technology as soon as 2019,” he concludes.

This article originally appeared in the December issue of Australian Mining.