Futuristic Solutions Threaten Status Quo
Suppliers release crucial innovations as pressure mounts for sustainability and safety improvements
By Jesse Morton, Technical Writer
When it comes to autonomous haulage, Volvo is bringing to market a cab-less, robotic truck that can operate in a train or solo. When it comes to transporting shovels, Philippi-Hagenbuch announced a gargantuan lowboy trailer for toting the world’s biggest shovels. In size, it is a singularity, and the conceptual images almost fail to capture its enormity. For managing ore dilution reduction efforts, increasingly proven and user-friendly software solutions threaten to replace longtime manual systems of managing the grade of the ore going to the plant. On the subject of state-of-the-art components, Horton introduced a low-maintenance variable-speed fan drive for truck engine cooling systems.
In consideration of what they all offer in terms of production increases, cost savings and safety improvements, every one of these solutions could prove to be disruptive. And with sustainable mining a talking point among both industry critics and leaders, the timing of their release is near perfect.
H2-fueled Ultra-class Truck
Anglo American reported a renewable H2- fueled, battery-powered, ultra-class haul truck prototype will be assembled before the end of the year at Mogalakwena platinum group metals mine in South Africa. The testing and validation program will occur during the latter half of 2021, Julian Soles, head of technology development, Anglo American, said. “After that, the trucks are expected to be deployed at other Anglo American operations, subject to rollout plans, which are currently being developed,” he said. “We have a fleet of approximately 400 trucks in our owned and joint venture mines that would benefit from the technology.”
On Schedule, Despite COVID
Everything going into those goals right now is reportedly on track. The major pieces of the project include a solar power plant, an H2 plant and fueling station, and the truck itself. The truck was originally a diesel unit, and over the course of the coming months, will be retrofitted to be powered by H2 fuel cells and batteries. “We are currently building a demonstration facility in South Africa, including a 3.5-MW electrolyzer to produce H2 on site, which will support the H2-electric ultra- class haul truck,” Soles said. “We have partnered with global energy company ENGIE, who is providing the site-based H2 generation, storage and dispensing solutions,” he said. Canada’s Ballard Power Systems will provide nine FCveloCity-HD 100-kW fuel cell modules. “The engineering and integration of the fuel cell and battery system is managed by Seattle’s First Mode. Anglo American administers the entire project,” Soles said. “Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE) will develop the high-voltage battery system.”
ENGIE’s Hydrogen Business Unit is in charge of the H2 plant piece. Leadership at the company said construction efforts are now under way. “The earth works and civil works activity are performed by Anglo, and that has started,” said Luc Imschoot, the business unit’s vice president. “The design has been finalized, including all safety studies, the procurements have advanced, and the first activity on site has already started at the mine, despite the difficult COVID situation,” he said. The main equipment was delivered and construction will start by the end of the year. “Commissioning and first operations could occur in the first half of next year,” he said.
Ballard reported the company shipped the fuel cells to First Mode and was currently supporting their integration. The cells “have to work with the controls and the coolant system,” said Daljit Bawa, manager, business development, Ballard Power Systems. “We have supplied application engineering for that.”
WAE said the first two developed battery systems were being delivered to First Mode for integration into the power train followed by testing. “They can test all the communications on it and test the power before we ship the whole kit down to South Africa for integration into the haul truck,” WAE Business Development Manager James Hoxey said. WAE is manufacturing 10 150-kW subpacks in total. Nine will be built into the truck after the trials in Seattle. A reference subpack will stay with WAE for remote troubleshooting. “We are building very rugged, automotive- style batteries,” Hoxey said. “We’ve taken a proven, automotive NMC chemistry.” “This particular technology in the passenger car sector has had zero fatal events,” he said. “It is a pouch cell and very robust.”
WAE is also developing modular battery architecture. “Anglo American is looking at this technology for different vehicles,” Hoxey said. First Mode said it was on schedule at integrating the 2-MW hybrid power plant that will replace the diesel generator in the prototype truck. “Since the design was finalized in early 2020, First Mode has been busy integrating and testing the power module in Seattle, while simultaneously working to understand the existing truck to ensure a clean integration within existing systems,” First Mode President Chris Voorhees said.
“We have created the vehicle design and configuration, working with outside vendors to supply the needed components for the power plant,” he said. “We have also worked closely with Anglo American and ENGIE in the creation of safe and efficient on-site fueling infrastructure and protocols.”
The engineering firms won the contracts with Anglo American due largely to their track records. Of the four, First Mode and WAE are new to the mining space. First Mode company literature boasts of successful projects in the space exploration sector. “First Mode has worked on missions headed to almost every planet in the solar system,” Voorhees said. “We are supporting several NASA missions, including Mars 2020 and its Perseverance rover, as well as focusing our collective brainpower on significant problems here on Earth, including the challenging issues of sustainability for the natural resources sector.”
As such, the company is “uniquely positioned to combine the best engineers and scientists from several industries, to help customers thinking about doing things differently,” he said. “Anglo American is the perfect partner for solving a big clean energy problem, encouraging changes to the status quo in renewable energy and natural resources.” WAE is also new to the mining space, and brings to the table deep experience in developing high-performing, rugged battery systems. Since 2012, WAE batteries have consistently won awards in Formula E racing. In 2018, the company won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation for transferring battery technology from the track to the road.
ENGIE, which signed a joint development agreement with Anglo American in July 2019, has been in the gas and energy industry for more than 150 years. In H1 2020 alone, it made headlines for developing a fueling solution for a H2-electric passenger train prototype in the Netherlands, and for its role in the launch of the Chambery H2 fueling station in France, the first of the 20 stations for the Zero Emissions Valley Project. In late July, it joined Mining3, a mining innovation research organization. “We are bringing all that into a solution with our engineering and construction expertise,” Imschoot said.
Providing electricity and services to mines around the world for two decades, ENGIE is not new to the mining space, and currently serves on a handful of innovation projects. Those include one that is developing a new powertrain for mining vehicles to run on renewable H2 instead of diesel, and one that is creating low-carbon feedstock for blasting products for mines in Chile. “H2 is a crucial product for them,” Imschoot said. “We are also developing a scaling-up strategy with them.”
Challenges and Solutions
While each engineering firm is uniquely qualified for the job, the project is not without its challenges. For WAE, one of the biggest challenges has been scaling up “This is the first time we have had to consider the vibration profile, a 320-ton truck moving up and down on rugged terrain,” Hoxey said. “It is a very different frequency, where the vibration is concerned. Secondly, just the actual event of 50- to 70-metric-ton (mt) loads of earth hitting [the truck’s tray] is quite unique.” To understand the implications of that, WAE engineers modeled the work routine of an ultra-class haul truck. “The team has been able to use some lateral thinking and put some logic into that model, which has proven to be accurate,” Hoxey said.
“I think that accurately modeling what a lap of the mine looks like has been a real achievement,” he said. “Once we actually understood how a mining truck behaves on a given day, we were then able to take that information and go into quite a bit of detail of how not to have an oversized or undersized battery pack.” For Ballard, the primary hurdles have been synching eight fuel cell modules to run in parallel and then packaging the solution to fit the truck, Bawa said. “A lot of changes had to be done on the fly,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of tweaking, some changes to the fuel cell connectors so that everything would fit in well and then everything would work in parallel and safely, because electrical isolation is a challenge.” Solutions included changing the materials used for the connectors to improve isolation resistance.
First Mode reported that the biggest challenge is successfully integrating several new technologies into an existing mobile platform. That requires “a signifi- cant effort in the best of times,” Voorhees said. “Our team and partners on this project are global, so the current pandemic represents a unique challenge in how to successfully bring together and deploy a system like this for the first time.” With prior experience engineering, constructing and maintaining energy assets, the project with Anglo American was not novel to ENGIE, but did pose some challenges, Imschoot said. “At the project level, certainly safety has been considered from the start of the project as a primary block of work,” he said. “Obviously that included some particularities of the site, which are related to dust and external high temperatures during the summer.”
Future Deliverables, Opportunities
For ENGIE, the project presents another opportunity to further expand its knowledge of the mining ecosystem. That knowledge is indispensable as the company aspires to play a larger role in decarbonizing the industry. “The end game for us is really to go for the scale-up,” and develop solutions for “the entire value chain, from the supplier up to the client,” Imschoot said. “Why not also go beyond the mines?”
Examples include “H2 solutions for the industry, heavy-duty mobility and eventually energy supply,” he said. “We consider the total energy cost and the new ways we can reduce it with ENGIE’s hub strategy,” which envisions mass production of renewable H2 for multiple usages centralized in one location. For WAE, the project presents the opportunity to advance its relationship with Anglo American, Hoxey said. The engineering firm hopes to play a key role in helping the miner become carbon neutral by 2030. “Anglo American has a fleet of 400 haul trucks, and there are various other vehicles that will have to be decarbonized,” Hoxey said. “We want to be with them on that journey, and, based on what we see in the industry, we think that the 2030 deadline is the most aggressive in the industry.”
Voorhees said for First Mode integration and testing, including on site at Mogalakwena, will run into early 2021. The project presents an opportunity for the firm to gain further expertise in renewables. “We love the challenge of problems that haven’t been solved before,” he said. Ballard reported that, after supporting the commissioning of the truck, it hopes to expand its footprint in the mining equipment space. “This is going to be a great market for us to expand into,” Bawa said. After the prototype truck proves viable, other miners will look to adopt similar solutions, he said.
“As Anglo has realized, using diesel is becoming more and more expensive,” he said. “They see that the production of hydrogen on site is the best way. They can control the supply chain and the pricing of the H2, and they will gain the efficiencies of operating on fuel cells instead of diesel.” Ultimately, the project is one piece of Anglo American’s sustainable mining initiative, FutureSmart Mining, Soles said. “This truck forms part of a project where we analyzed our mine site power requirements, applied a unique decision process on how we look at renewable energy systems and their benefits, and came up with a mix that allows us to be carbon neutral and have a very different footprint,” he said. “Our large trucks currently account for 70%-80% of diesel consumption on-site.”
The project cannot help but “have a significant impact on the industry, at large,” Soles said. The truck is the sort of “step-change innovation that will transform the nature of mining,” he said. FutureSmart Mining innovations will positively affect “our physical and societal footprint” and help to usher in “a world where mines are integrated, automated, carbon neutral and waterless.”
FrontRunner AHS Moves
3 Billion Metric Tons
Komatsu reported that more than 3 billion mt of material have been moved by equipment using its FrontRunner Autonomous Haulage System (AHS). Komatsu said the incredible milestone shows the system is now mainstream technology, truly viable, and has the full confidence of customers for its predictability and reliability. “FrontRunner is now in its third generation and features marked improvements in functionality, precision, fleet size, adaptability to complex mine sites, average speed, and usability for equipment operators and system users,” said Martin Cavassa, business development manager, AHS, Komatsu. “Because of these improvements, the application and value case is more easily recognized in a much shorter time with a higher level of confidence.” Cost savings offered by the system have proven to be substantial, he said. “Customers are indicating up to a 15% increase in average major component life, and up to 40% increase in tire life.”
In addition to attaining the new milestone, the system has been successfully used in efforts to improve safety. “First and foremost, it is getting workers out of harm’s way and up-skilling those workers into technology supporting roles that add even greater value to the mine’s operations,” Cavassa said. “The highly granular data that the FrontRunner system generates is continually analyzed for events and trends that are influencing system enhancements to improve safety,” he said. “Intrinsic to the FrontRunner system are several layers of safety that drive a high level of compliance that translates to stricter adherence to processes and procedures defined by the system.”
Lowboy Trailer for World’s
Philippi-Hagenbuch (PHIL) announced the PHIL Ultra-Class Lowboy Trailer, gargantuan trailers designed to haul some of the biggest machines on the planet. PHIL leadership described the unit, which can be designed to move a shovel weighing up to 2,000 tons, as a bridge on wheels. “The capacity will be decided by the client’s hauling needs,” Josh Swank, vice president of sales and marketing, PHIL, said. “PHIL engineers will then create a trailer with the support necessary to transport the weight of the largest piece of equipment being hauled.”
The trailer was conceptualized as a niche solution. “There are a number of lowboy trailer manufacturers around the world that have done a great job building trailers, up to 400 tons in capacity,” Swank said. “However, an ultra-class solution was needed to transport larger shovels,” he said. “Radically different thinking was required to accommodate such a haul and we were the ones that focused on that need.” And the need was apparent. For example, a gigantic trailer could be used to move the shovel to a centralized location to speed up repair work. “Shovels can now be transported closer to maintenance facilities for optimal maintenance efficiency,” Swank said.
“When shovels go down in the field, it can take crews significant amounts of time to travel back and forth between the shop and the shovel in order to diagnose the problem and get the proper tools and replacement parts,” he said. “Along with this time-consuming process, workers that are out of sight are often out of mind, which can result in inefficiencies and unnecessary downtime.” An ultra-class trailer could also be used to regularly move a shovel from pit to pit without creating wear and tear on the shovel itself.
“When mines have multiple pits and fewer shovels than pits, moving the shovels from one location to another causes degradation to their running gear, resulting in replacement costs of up to $1.5 million per shovel,” Swank said. Tramming a shovel can contribute to the need to replace the undercarriage every two to three years, he said. Using an ultra-class trailer could double the undercarriage life and result in savings across a fleet. For several reasons, the PHIL Ultra- Class Lowboy Trailer started out as a blank-sheet design. “Because our solution is focused on sizes that range from hauling 400 to 2,000 tons of equipment, we did not start with a preconceived idea of what has been done previously to haul 100 tons of equipment,” Swank said. “That simply won’t work.”
Innovative, unique thinking was required, he said. For starters, the stresses are completely different. “How you attach the trailer to the chassis and how you load the trailer is different,” Swank said. The resulting design provides “an incredibly stable and tight integration of the trailer with the chassis,” he said. During loading and unloading, the trailer is not disconnected from the chassis. “With our rear-loading solution, the truck and trailer simply pull up next to the piece of equipment to be transported, which then drives up onto the trailer deck from the rear,” he said. “Hydraulic ramps raise, the axles swing back into place, the trailer deck rises and then the truck is able to drive off to its destination.” The axles use running gear made by Caterpillar and use Cat’s long-proven oilcooled braking system.
FMS Reduces Dilution,
Modular Mining Systems released a case study from an open-pit nickel mine in Brazil that showed limited implementation of DISPATCH Fleet Management System (FMS) and ProVision High-precision Machine Guidance resulted in a 2.2% reduction in ore dilution. On several machines, the systems replaced existing solutions and helped the miner optimize material blending practices and improve operator accuracy.
“The mine’s shovel operators were unknowingly digging outside their dig boundaries, which diluted the mine’s ore output by 15% on average and resulted in high element variances,” Modular Mining reported. Previously, the mine manually managed blending of multiple temporary stockpiles. Human error at that task was known to also ratchet up dilution. The miner and Modular Mining partnered to deploy DISPATCH and the Blending and Dynamic Material Inventory Reporting Modules to a dozen haul trucks. With the blending module, the FMS “considers crusher blend constraints and automatically assigns trucks directly to a crusher or specific stockpile to meet those constraints,” Modular Mining reported. The inventory module tracks material at various locations, tracks grades, and reconciles estimates against actual material amounts in every load.
Two backhoes were equipped with ProVision and the Bucket Positioning System (BPS). ProVision integrates with DISPATCH and uses high-precision data from satellites (GNSS) to guide operators at positioning shovels, down to the centimeter. BPS offers data on boom, stick and bucket movements to help operators dig more precisely. “Together, the ProVision system and BPS help miners ensure correct material grades are dug and loaded more accurately, efficiently and safely than staking methods can,” Modular Mining reported. If, after the limited deployment, dilution was reduced by 1% or more, Modular Mining would be tapped to equip the rest of the fleet. From the outset, Modular Mining worked closely with the miner to gain solid understanding of the operations and processes in place at the mine.
A deployment team evaluated the site for network capability, GPS availability and other requirements. The mine was well-equipped to adopt the solutions, Giovanni Gambogi, sales manager, Brazil, Modular Mining, said. “The mine’s existing network facilitated a smooth deployment and transition from the incumbent FMS to the DISPATCH FMS,” he said. DISPATCH and ProVision were installed simultaneously. “Installation itself also requires system configuration to meet the mine’s specific needs, which the Modular Mining team conducted for both the DISPATCH and ProVision applications,” Gambogi said. A mobile computer, the PTX-C, was installed in the cab of each piece of equipment.
“The PTX-C is Modular Mining’s latest mobile computing platform and features a full-color touch screen running an intuitive mobile UI,” Gambogi said. “Operators use the PTX-C to conduct several activities, including logging in, receiving tasks, changing equipment status, receiving alarms, completing prestart checklists, monitoring load and dump counts, selecting digging material, and sending and receiving messages from the dispatcher.” Hardware also includes GPS antennas and receivers.
Software includes the DISPATCH core and optional modules, and, for the trucks, the Blending and the Inventory Management modules. The back office gets software for dispatcher and other capabilities, such as reporting. “It integrates with Microsoft’s Active Directory authentication infrastructure to simplify configuration and administration,” Gambogi said. ProVision requires the same hardware as DISPATCH. It also requires a ground station to support the GNSS receiver on each backhoe.
“The ground station provides reference measurements for the entire fleet over the radio network infrastructure covering the mine,” Gambogi said. “To provide accuracy and reliability even under challenging conditions, the mobile GNSS receiver and ground station are multi-constellation capable, including GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and BeiDou.” BPS, which is supported by Pro- Vision, uses sensors on the backhoe’s boom, stick and bucket. “These sensors create 3D block models that help operators improve their digging accuracy even more,” Gambogi said. “The sensors determine the backhoe’s current bucket position based on intermediate positions and inclination of the boom, stick, and bucket.” Installation was followed with a training regime.
“After installation, the team thoroughly trained operators, dispatchers and other end users to ensure understanding of system functionality and to increase operator buy-in of technology,” Gambogi said. “Since the initial project phase was completed prior to the global outbreak of COVID-19, all training was conducted in person, in a classroom, in-seat, in-cab and train-the-trainer lessons.” After training, Modular Mining personnel shadowed dispatchers and operators to help with developing best practices. The benefits offered by the systems presented almost instantly. “Since the ProVision system displays real-time progress line and delineated materials directly on the mobile computer, both day and night-shift operators benefitted from the system,” Gambogi said. “By relying on the ProVision machine guidance technology to guide them to the correct dig limits regardless of weather or time of day, the mine was able to eliminate their manual staking process.”
The results include improved backhoe operator performance and confi- dence, improved materials blending outcomes, reduced materials rehandling, and improved safety. The 2.2% decrease in dilution translated to a 1.1% decrease in nickel loss, Modular Mining reported. Based on the results from the limited deployment, Modular Mining estimated, after a full deployment, the miner could add up to 440 tons of high-grade material output to its annual average total production. “Using a conservative price, this increased high-grade material represents a potential increase in revenue of $5.7 million per year,” according to miner estimates, Modular Mining said. Which means Modular Mining is now in the process of equipping the entire fleet with its solutions, Gambogi said. “The expansion to the full fleet of trucks, loading equipment and dozers is under way.”
Payload Monitoring Ups
MineWare introduced the Material Classifi cation module for Argus Shovel Monitor, an OEM-agnostic payload monitoring and machine health software system. The new module offers shovel operators and other mine site personnel increased ore visibility and classification, and information on the movement of material on site. It uses an uploaded geological block model, and it integrates with a mine’s third-party fleet management system (FMS) to generate bucket-by-bucket fill and position data. It offers real-time tracking of each bucket, into each truck, via the FMS.
Precise bucket position and ore classifi- cation information is organized and presented as an overlay on the operator screen. The viewing options include material statistics, mine plan and override. This helps the operator to see exactly what they are digging. It gives “site-wide material visibility using material plan profiling, layered over the mine’s design and map,” Fisher said. “It removes subjectivity when interpreting boundaries.” The module also offers geologists, surveyors and reconciliation engineers easy access to more accurate data on what and how material has been distributed on-site, MineWare reported. Detailed material compliance reports can help in meeting legal reporting obligations.
Field results show the ability of the module to help reduce errors that stem from ore misclassification. “A key challenge for miners is the ability to effectively distinguish the separation of ore and waste materials on complex or blended mine sites,” Fisher said. “This may be between high- and low-grade ore, or carb-shale and coal,” he said. “Argus’ Material Classification technology not only addresses this challenge, but also enables mines to save potentially millions of dollars by reducing the amount of lost or contaminated ore that could go unrecognized without it.”
For example, for a customer with six shovels, the module repeatedly prevented the misrouting of waste. “The site was experiencing issues with operators forgetting to change block model IDs when switching from mining high-grade to low-grade ore and waste material,” Fisher said. “On just one occasion, this issue resulted in over 9,000 tons (8,165 mt) of waste being sent to the incorrect stockpile,” he said. “Almost all of the material needed to be rehandled as contaminated, losing roughly 12,000 tons (10,866 mt).” Such is “not uncommon,” Fisher said, and can result in significant financial losses. “MineWare’s Material Classification module can assist in eliminating this issue.”
The customer adopted the Material Classification technology, and integrated it with the site’s FMS. “The site is now capable of understanding, in real time, what material is in each truck as it leaves the dig face,” Fisher said. “This means they can redirect or divert trucks with any out-of-spec material before it reaches the crusher,” he said. And the mine was able to extract more value by accurately splitting stockpiles by grade. “The module delivered a solid return on investment by eliminating incorrect material recording per truck,” Fisher said. Ultimately, “the customer was able to completely eliminate their terrain solution, resulting in significant cost savings.” The module can be deployed to any new or existing Argus Shovel Monitoring system. Argus Machine Guidance must be in place prior to deploying the module. It can be deployed at both hard rock and soft rock mines. For example, “Argus Material Classification is currently deployed in a U.S. gold mine, an Australian coal mine, and a South American copper mine,” Fisher said.
MineWare reported it is developing the module to include the ability to upload specific rock densities. The upgrade will help an “operator determine whether a truck is volume or tonnage constrained,” and will be available late this year or next year, Fisher said. The module advances MineWare’s mission to make mining more effective, productive and sustainable by sharing real- time, actionable information between systems, people and processes, he said. “We do this by leveraging open and interoperable platforms,” Fisher said. “By introducing the Material Classification module to our Argus monitoring system, we are enabling mines to take that next step in optimizing the value chain.”
“The RCV2000’s closed-loop control strategy is self-contained, and when connected to the engine’s CAN bus, provides precise fan control and lower ‘off’ fan speeds, which reduces overall fuel consumption and parasitic power loss in the system,” he said. “This efficiency gain allows for more power to be allocated toward more value-added systems like driving the wheels, which can increase the truck’s speed, and, thus, the time it takes to make a run at the mine.” Compared to conventional fan drive systems, the RCV2000 employs fewer parts, which speeds installation, increases reliability, reduces maintenance, and further contributes to engine performance.
Traditional fan drives are regulated by an external solenoid valve, “which is a common failure point, depending on the application and environment,” Harris said. “With the RCV, the internal valve that regulates the fluid flow and subsequent torque transfer is not considered a wear part or failure mode.” Traditional fan drives typically use engine oil or hydraulic oil from the vehicle. That adds “complexity and weight to the system,” Harris said. “The Horton RCV’s viscous silicon oil is completely internal to the clutch and isolated from other systems on the truck.”
The drive is the product of more than a decade of R&D. After market acceptance of the HTEC fan, released in 2015, the company invested more resources in researching solutions for the mining space. It prioritized development of the RCV2000 shortly thereafter. “We added on to our headquarters by building a separate R&D facility, featuring multiple test cells dedicated to replicating mining conditions,” Harris said. The cells are equipped with “a shaker” that abuses rotating assemblies with 96- in. fans for reliability testing. “By 2017, we had completed the majority of our field testing and finalized the remaining design iterations to bring this product to production,” he said. “This year, we launched production with Komatsu.” The drive is supported by an internal bracket bolted to the engine and driven by a belt from the crankshaft. “The drive encapsulates less overall space than similar products and does not use any hoses or external solenoid valves,” Harris said. It requires the Di+ controller, which standard on Komatsu 830E and 930E trucks. “If the equipment is not already equipped with the Di+ controller, that’s not an issue,” Harris said. The drive system can be paired with the company’s HTEC composite fans that are described as impervious to corrosion.