The Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) pioneered by global mining and construction equipment giant Komatsu for large mining operations, has passed a landmark milestone of 330-million tonnes of material moved.
Based on conventional large mining trucks, Komatsu’s FrontRunner autonomous trucks are not remote controlled but run completely autonomously with a full truck fleet monitored by a single controller located thousands of kilometres away. Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, these trucks deliver significant safety, productivity, reliability, performance and operational benefits to mine fleet owners.
Komatsu Australia’s Managing Director Sean Taylor observes that Komatsu leads the way globally in the successful implementation of autonomous haulage systems in production mining. Several years of research and development effort have been invested by the company to ensure the safe, productive and reliable operation of autonomous trucks, both in Australia and around the world.
Used for hauling either overburden to waste dumps or paddock dumps for spreading, or mined resources to the crusher area or stockpiles, Komatsu FrontRunner trucks are typically loaded by conventionally operated manned loading tools such as shovels or front-end loaders. Each truck is equipped with a combination of vehicle controllers, precision GPS, an obstacle detection system (ODS) using radar and laser, and a wireless network system developed by Komatsu.
The AHS Central Control System uses a detailed map of the mine area, including haul roads, loading areas, dump areas and refuelling and maintenance areas to assign required routes to each truck. The
loading tools are also fitted with high precision GPS and an integrated touch-screen computer showing the location and direction of movement of all items of mobile plant within the FrontRunner fleet’s operational area.
The loading tool operator uses the on-board touch-screen computer to ‘spot’ the approaching truck to the correct loading location, ‘telling’ the truck when it can move into position to be loaded, and then move off to the dump area once it is loaded. The autonomous system is able to determine whether the material has to be dumped at fixed crusher plant locations for mined ore or the overburden waste dumps.
According to Mr Taylor, safety has been prioritised during the development of the FrontRunner system. For instance, the FrontRunner truck’s ODS can detect light mine vehicles and other mobile mine equipment on the mine site, enabling it to slow down or stop altogether when required.
The FrontRunner also addresses the problem of fatigue, especially at night – one of the biggest safety issues with dump truck operation. Mine personnel report that they feel safer and less stressed with FrontRunner trucks operating around them because of their constant and predictable movements.
The FrontRunner system has also significantly changed the personnel requirements to operate and control the trucks. Mr Taylor explains that a Komatsu 930E truck in a 24/7 operation typically requires up to a total of five operators to cover shift changes and FIFO work patterns. A FrontRunner truck, in comparison, requires just a single controller per shift to supervise the entire truck fleet.
However, autonomous truck operations require significantly higher skills and more people to maintain and keep the system going, including specialists in electronics, GPS and control systems.
Komatsu’s FrontRunner system offers a more accurate component life prediction because they are consistently driven to their optimum operating capabilities at all times. Tyre wear is also reduced due to the trucks constantly achieving their optimum travel speeds, acceleration, braking and steering requirements.
In addition to lower fuel consumption, the system ensures increased productivity and production by eliminating any need to stop for shift changes or crib breaks; allowing longer periods between service requirements; and minimising unscheduled downtime.