Leading Australian miner Fortescue Metals Group demonstrated how rapidly autonomous haulage technology (AHS) and other mining equipment innovations have expanded throughout the industry earlier this year.
The iron ore miner said it would be converting another 12 793F trucks with Caterpillar AHS at the Solomon Hub in the 2018 financial year, adding to the 56 machines that already used the technology at the Pilbara site in Western Australia.
Fortescue, eager to translate the 20 per cent improvement to productivity it had enjoyed at Solomon to other sites, also unveiled an AHS implementation plan for the Chichester Hub, where it will convert around 100 trucks.
Nev Power, Fortescue’s chief executive officer, explained that the company’s operations focused on technological advancement, workforce skills development and collaboration.
With the planned expansion of AHS, the haulage technology continues to help the company achieve its goals in these areas.
Fortescue is one of many Australian miners that has made a technology like Cat’s AHS commonplace at sites around the country.
BHP and Rio Tinto join its mining peer as users which have moved heavily towards the systems at their iron ore operations in the Pilbara.
Caterpillar mining automation and solutions regional manager Carl Hendricks said, independent of improving overall market conditions, the proven benefits of autonomous haulage – namely safety and productivity – have attracted increased interest over the past year.
“Autonomous haulage has evolved in Western Australia, and this provided the regional industry with much higher familiarity and confidence in the capability and potential of the technology, as compared to other global mining regions,” Hendricks told Australian Mining.
“Knowing that technology is driving success, Australian miners remain at the forefront of interest in automation.”
Cat plans to tap into the growing demand for autonomous solutions by broadening the availability of AHS on mining equipment.
Hendricks explained the equipment manufacturer would achieve this by expanding the availability of autonomous haulage on additional Cat truck models and other brands of trucks, including expansion to allied mining equipment and autonomous systems on dozers and blasthole drills.
Safety and productivity improvements remain the ultimate goals for Cat in this pursuit.
“The autonomous haulage system has delivered unprecedented improvements in safety via the reduction of all incidents associated with loading and haulage while driving significant improvements in fleet productivity,” Hendricks said.
All of Cat’s autonomous and semi-autonomous systems are part of the Command capability that plays a key role in the company’s MineStar System.
Outside of its haul trucks, Cat also offers semi-autonomous control systems for three other types of equipment that also feature Command – rotary drills, large mining dozers and underground loaders (LHDs).
A recent release from Cat in the rotary drill space was the MD6310 blasthole drill, which features drill assist, semi-autonomous and remote control operation.
Cat Command for drilling leverages remote and autonomous drill operation and serves as the MD6310 drill’s off-board technology foundation.
A scalable automation solution also allow miners to select a precise level of drilling automation on the MD6310 to match operating needs.
Its MD6420C rotary drill, released in late 2016, was designed to optimise drilling precision and operator productivity, with automation helping deliver this.
An optional automation feature on the MD6420C controls each step in the drill cycle to simplify the operator’s job and improve accuracy.
Is interest matching demand?
Another mining equipment manufacturer, Liebherr, is also finding an increase in customer interest over the past year.
On a global scale, however, demand is lagging interest for Liebherr – a common trend that it has watched emerge.
Liebherr’s technology aim has always been to increase human safety, productivity, and profitability for customers, with a core focus on lowering cost per tonne.
As technology, such as autonomous equipment, is introduced, there are additional benefits for mining, including increased utilisation and a decrease in the variability of operations that can be realised, the company told Australian Mining.
Liebherr Mining innovation manager Troy Canalichio said one of the core values of the mining equipment group continued to be Innovation.
“This constantly drives us to develop creative solutions to address the industry’s need for reduced cost per tonne and increased safety,” Canalichio said.
“This includes a flexible scope of supply for automation, allowing our customers to bring together autonomous solutions that are tailored to their unique applications.”
Liebherr is optimistic about the about the ability of the mining industry to adapt these new technologies into their operations.
It believes that automation system costs will continue to decrease through the new sensor and computing technologies that are on the horizon.
This will help make automation more accessible to mines throughout the world which have previously been unable to commit to the capital expenditure of today’s solutions.
A lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for automation, combined with the ability to operate multi-OEM automated equipment concurrently, will bring significant benefits to Liebherr’s customers worldwide, the company explained.
Liebherr Mining general manager – R&D engineering James Whitfield outlined the focus of the company’s innovation and automation strategy.
“Liebherr is developing solutions to address the growing need of a modular and flexible supply scope to support the future needs of autonomous haulage,” Whitfield said.
R 9800 builds efficiency in Australia
In terms of innovation at Liebherr, the company’s R 9800 mining excavator came about as a solution that significantly improved efficiency, something it is proving at several Australian mine sites.
The concept of a large excavator may not be new, but Liebherr’s vertical integration practice with the R 9800 delivered the freedom to make each component more efficient through continuous improvement. The Liebherr machine, therefore, becomes more productive with less downtime.
Mining services group Downer Mining added a Liebherr R 9800 BH excavator at its contract operations for BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) at the Goonyella coal mine in Queensland during July.
The new machine expanded the fleet of Liebherr excavators purchased in Australia since 2009, which includes four R 9800 BH and four 9400 machines. Both Liebherr models are used at coal and iron ore operations.
This article also appears in the September edition of Australian Mining.