Automation of earth moving equipment
The next step in increased productivity within the mining sector lies in the automation of earth moving machines. Future mines will be enabled with machines that can optimally excavate a mine face autonomously, and then load material onto a waiting truck without risk of collision with that truck and other machines in its vicinity.
Currently, the operation of these heavy machines is manual which poses multiple risks. In the case of manual operating of large mining shovels, the biggest risk is collisions. The shovel could strike its own tracks or other machinery in its vicinity. Another risk of manual operation is in the transference of mined material into the trucks. Uneven distribution of the load within the tray leads to unsafe truck operations, maintenance issues, and uneven tyre wear. Most concerning, however, is the potential for injury and even fatality of the operators.
In 2007, the Australian Coal Industry’s Research Program (ACARP) initiated the project that has come to be known as SLAP. Recognising that research and technological innovation is critical to sustaining future competitiveness in the Australian mining industry SLAP had one goal: To develop a fully automated mining shovel that could operate safely, efficiently and effectively.
Mining3 worked with its industry partners on a series of stepping stone technologies that would ultimately work together to make full automation a reality.
While the ultimate goal is to fully automate the process of loading material into waiting trucks to optimise tray capacity and distribute the load equally, SLAP currently addresses the safety risks associated with manually controlled machinery by providing a layer of automated protection to the operator. SLAP’s five operator assistance technologies offer increasing levels of automation, improved safety, reliability and productivity, and reduces the amount and extent of maintenance required.
- Trackshield: A safety-related operator assist technology that helps operators avoid self-collisions, focusing on collisions between the shovel dipper and tracks.
- TruckShield: A safety-related operator assist technology that prevents collisions between shovels and trucks that might injure truck drivers or damage the truck or shovel.
- DozerShield: A safety-related operator assist technology that prevents collisions between the shovel, and the shovel dipper, and clean up equipment operating around the shovel.
- AutoSwing: A semi-automation swing technology that automates the swing, dump and return phases of the shovel loading cycle.
- AutoFill: An assistive technology providing a near full-automation layer that allows the dig, swing, dump and return phases of the shovel cycle to be performed autonomously.
How it works
Building on advances in an earlier ACARP project – Collision Control and Avoidance for Electric Mining Shovels – SLAP focused intently on effective collision control by addressing accurate and reliable determination of the relative position of the shovel to itself and machines in its vicinity. After extensive research, three state-of-the-art technologies were combined to accurately determine the shovel position relative to itself and its own tracks, haul trucks nearby and clean up equipment and machinery in its locality.
These include a high-precision Global Navigation Satellite System, an ultra-wideband ranging receiver mounted to the shovels and participating trucks and machines, and LiDAR sensors mounted on the shovels that determine truck positions from point clouds generated by sensors.
The combination of these technologies enabled the resolution of exact relative positioning of the machinery, leading to the development of TrackSheild (to prevent self-collision), TruckSheild (to prevent collisions between the shovel and nearby haul trucks), DozerShield (to prevent collisions between the shovel and clean up equipment operating around the shovel) and AutoSwing (to prevent collisions between the shovel and truck), all of which depend on the ability of the shovel to determine its relative position. Utilising these technologies means that operators are alerted to impending collisions.
AutoFill is the only technology that already runs autonomously. Without any operator intervention, Autofill allows the shovel to identify, execute and monitor a dig strategy as well as identify an approaching truck and load it safely, resulting in significant increases in the profitability of the mining operation.
The benefits of automating large mining shovels are numerous. The autonomous mining shovel envisioned by SLAP aims to improve safety, reliability and productivity, and to reduce the amount and extent of maintenance required.
The technologies developed:
• Significantly increase productivity
• Assist operators to load more, efficiently and safely
• Reduce the frequency and severity of collisions
• Improve the health and safety risk profile of shovel operators
• Add value to the operation by reducing equipment downtime and repair costs
Mining3 is working with its industry members to incorporate the new technology into new electric shovel equipment which will be made available to the industry.