I just attended the 2016 Mine Expo and vendors are now talking about the connected mine and projects called “Digitization.” It is clear that autonomous operations and predictive analytics are industry favorites right now. Many vendors are entering the field, but at least from my unofficial survey at the EXPO, not many really have case studies to show and much is still in development.
Komatsu autonomous truckThe star of the show however, from my perspective, was the Komatsu autonomous truck. Not so much from the control technology but rather the design that included no cab, four-wheel drive with both axles steering. The major benefit being able to travel in both directions and no need to “spot” under the shovel. Just drive right in and load. Drive to the dump and dump. The truck is designed to climb a 20% grade. Generally conventional haulage tops out at about a 12 % grade. I was asked if I believed that autonomy was at the inflection point and be considered a disrupter. Certainly it will be as human operators will be replaced. This has already happened in a few mining operations but is most evident and will be seen, I predict, first in on road transport. UBER disrupted traditional cab companies with an innovative business model, but the next step is driverless cabs. As intelligent vehicles advance, human operators will be replaced. I predict this will be gradual but exponential and perhaps within a decade the last ethical and safety concerns of driverless on road vehicles will be resolved.
Based on my own and my teams experience in this space I wanted to discuss what I would define a “Digitized” mine to really look like. We developed a Global Operating Model to apply technology and actually used the data produced from installed technologies, even venturing into cloud computing and prognostics. I suspect that work, much of which was applied globally to 20 mining operations, would certainly qualify as “Digitization”.
Here is my view of what a Digitized Mine would look like:
Communications – Includes in pit and underground wireless solutions and fixed plant networks. This space has moved rapidly with improvements in band width and reduced cost. LTE has the potential to replace 802.11 protocols with the promise of yet greater speed and increased data transfer 4G is predicted to give way to 5G before 2020. Wireless and sometimes smart sensors are now installed in fixed plants. Plants still have wired networks for control, but also produce data that is useful for analytics and optimization.
On board and off board Devices include all the installed sensors whether they be fixed plant or mobile operations. This would include GPS systems, machine hubs for processing sensor data, wireless radios, plant networks and instruments. Included in the whole of this is the connected network of devices servers and office computers.
Visualization software can display the output of aerial surveys now enabled and cheaper to do by drone. A near real time pit can be visualized now. In the past, a monthly survey was used.
It is a new world out there and as mining companies strive to improve productivity, technology will be necessary and data is king. At XRT we have many years of successful experience in this space. If there is any way, we can help out don’t hesitate to ask. What we have learned over the years is that actually doing this stuff is a lot harder than dreaming about it, but it can be done successfully and sustainably. Although technology can replace some labor, it still takes competent people to manage and maintain these systems.
We had snow in the mountains last week and winter is coming closer. Keep yourselves safe and warm.