Autonomous Haulage Systems – The Future of Mining Operations
Oct 28, 2022
11 min readAdd to Favourite
Oct 28, 2022
11 min readAdd to Favourite
A transition toward autonomous operations in mining
Autonomy in mining began in 1990 with Komatsu Mining using the Field Management Software for mines as a foundation. Commercial deployment for Komatsu mining was in Chile in 2007 and Australia in 2008. As self-driving vehicles are getting more mature and commercialized in the market, the Internet of Things (IoT), AI, machine learning, analytics, and wireless connectivity have become widespread. In the mining industry, there has been an increasing trend and adoption of automated haul trucks and other mobile equipment. Today numerous companies have fleets of autonomous trucks, trains, and loaders at mine sites, but most are in the testing phase of using these vehicles.
One of the good examples of mining autonomy at work currently is the Resolute Mining operation in Mali. The entire process, including drilling, charging, blasting, loading, and trucking, is carried out via an autonomous system. This has reduced the cost of gold production by $135 per ounce and cut mining costs by 30 percent.
The primary benefit of autonomous mining operations is safety, as the toll of killed, injured, or missing in the mining industry is more than 15,000 every year. Another benefit is productivity increase and cost reduction since the trucks can work 24/7 and reduce the mines’ labor. But it is essential to check demographics before deploying autonomous haul trucks since human labor is available at lower costs in some geographies than in others. So, it is vital to have a cost-benefit analysis for the same.
Autonomous Haulage Systems (AHS) are considered a cheaper, safer, and more reliable option to run the mines by mining companies, especially those in the Americas, Australia, and Europe since the cost of the workforce is high or there is an increased risk in the terrain. In addition, autonomous haulage systems will improve efficiency and productivity while keeping safety and sustainability in check, making it a win-win situation for both employers and employees.
Several players in the ecosystem are finding ways to gain momentum in this shifting market by focusing their efforts on research and innovation. It is not just the OEM manufacturers but also other players in the value chain apart from the existing technology providers. Some other emerging trends for enabling autonomous haulage systems will consist of geo-referencing technology, which will be facilitated by GNSS (Global navigation satellite system) technology. AI, IoT, and other machine learning technologies, along with user interface solution providers, will also play an essential role in the value chain.
There are also a lot of solution providers in the value chain that will provide the appropriate software solutions along with the proper user interface for a smooth experience in the operations of autonomous haulage.
The developments in the current market scenario for equipment manufacturers are listed below for the leading competitors:
AHS has recently seen a lot of adoption and is a disruptive trend in the mining industry. By the end of the mining year 2020-21, there were 855 autonomous mining trucks deployed in total.
Although the AHS seems like an impregnable fortress in the long run for the mining industry, it still has some challenges. Ineffective haul road maintenance might result in slowing or stopping events of Autonomous Haul Trucks. To improve haul road maintenance, contributing factors to these slow or prevent events must be checked upon:
Although the autonomous haul trucks market is not so mature currently, there will be significant technological advancements bringing about a higher level of commercialization in the market.
There are different levels of automation for autonomous vehicles, and the same stands true for autonomous haul truck systems. It has four operations levels: driver assists, remote control, teleoperation, and complete autonomy.
Most of the trucks being developed and innovated are primarily aligned to be completely autonomous. The fully autonomous haul trucks would work with the following systems, and the developments in these components would also alleviate the performance of autonomous haulage systems as well:
There is also scope for autonomous haulage trucks in space mining in the far future. When it is easier to transport mining equipment to mine resources in outer space, these trucks will play a huge role there since they require a remote operator and can be used to mine without risk.
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