Mining technology: Integrated Software & Autonomous Haulage
Posted: 10/06/2011 12:00:00 AM EDT | 0
Experts in mining technology from across the globe have widely tipped 2011 as the year in which integrated software and autonomous systems finally make their breakthrough, after decades of research and development. As mineral resources at sites around the world become increasingly tricky to access and extract, firms are working harder than ever to streamline processes and maximise productivity.
A key part of this has been the growth of integrated software systems, which, at the most basic level, represent the mining industry's flexible, scalable preference when it comes to mine management.
Bearing in mind the enormous upfront costs involved with investment in new projects, reducing waste and driving up output are absolutely critical aims once production begins. In one way or another, almost every mine globally will use management and data gathering software to monitor compliance, safety and productivity at every stage of an operational process.
As the industry evolves, fully integrated software suites are an increasingly common sight among mining companies everywhere. These platforms give mine operations a flexible method of managing, controlling and carefully adjusting core activities to suit current demand.
One of the most notable arrivals in recent times is that of Cat's MineStar system, which brings together and builds upon several existing Cat platforms, such as its CAES and FleetCommander systems. With MineStar, these technologies have been enhanced and reorganised into five separate modules – health, fleet, detect, terrain and command – from which users can cherry-pick to meet their needs.
Speaking to mining-technology.com in July 2011, Cat's commercial technology manager, Annette Slyman, said a range of new features and functionalities are included in the MineStar system.
"For example, Terrain is the next generation of high precision guidance technology from Cat which is now built on the same technological platform as Fleet. Terrain has several new features, most notably the data share package which allows machine production data to be shared with other third-party systems, such as other fleet management systems," she explained.
Meanwhile, after years of research and first-generation vehicles in use across mining sites worldwide, the industry finally seems to have adopted autonomous operations in 2011. In July, Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) and Cat joined forces to implement an autonomous solution at the new Solomon iron ore mine in Western Australia.
Michael Murphy, technology manager for global corporate mining at Cat, spoke to mining-technology.com about the challenges and barriers in developing the system and how prepared the industry is for a completely autonomous mine.
"It's a lot more than just autonomous mining trucks. Implementing autonomous trucks is part of a system, which is focused on delivering a solution to the customer rather than just a technology. It's focused on how customers can maximise their return, how they can improve and re-engineer mine planning processes together with putting autonomy into mine sites," said Mr Murphy.
He said research dating back to the late 1980s had given Cat a good grasp of exactly what was required on mine sites. The key findings were that, firstly, the mining industry was not really ready for autonomy on a grand scale and, secondly, that when research and development began, the leap in technology would have been too great for most firms to handle.
Whether the industry is prepared for autonomous mining, even in 2011, is still open for debate, but Mr Murphy believes its core benefits align well with modern mining's core objectives – particularly in terms of safety, sustainability and maximum productivity.
"Autonomy is providing them with the next level of safety they are looking for. Obviously, autonomy is not for every mine site, but in Australia, Latin America and North America, a lot of attention is on autonomy to get better processes to increase safety, efficiency and production, as well as to keep the carbon footprint low. So, yes, we at Cat think the mining industry is very much ready for autonomy," he concluded.
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