Implementation of Autonomous Systems

March 28, 2018 – The way of the future is upon us. Various stages of autonomous mining systems, from mere contemplation to fully driverless and more, permeate the industry. The momentum to autonomy can’t be ignored and requires whole new ways of thinking and planning to meet its challenges. Its popularity is no surprise. Benefits of going autonomous are legion: one major operator reports a 15 percent savings in haul costs; there’s improved safety; reduced maintenance, and more.

“The implementation of autonomous machinery will fundamentally change mining and will have a profound impact on the industry as a whole,” says Dave Goddard, of the Global Mining Standards and Guidelines Group (GMSG), a facilitator of global mining collaboration on common industry issues. “Although there are a lot of mining companies currently taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to autonomous operations, the reality is that automation will be hugely disruptive in mining and will come whether they want it or not. And it’s more likely to come in a sooner and shorter time horizon than anyone is expecting.”

That’s what drove GMSG to create its Autonomous Mining Working Group in 2016, where Goddard manages a project to publish a globally-relevant Implementation of Autonomous Systems Guideline.
The key areas covered by the guideline will include functional capability, functional safety, change management, communications with the workforce and local community, and interactions with regulators. It’s to be an expanded checklist or playbook to provide mining companies and OEMs with the tools necessary to move forward with autonomous mining from planning to final stages.

Industry will benefit from the guideline in several other ways. Collaborative and constructive communication with regulators will increase. Manufacturers and technology providers will be helped in adjusting their innovation and development strategies. The framework the guideline provides will allow new suppliers from parallel industries, such as the automotive industry, to provide innovative new technologies for rapid integration into new and existing systems. With automation, the mining companies' process controls will be more consistent, unifying the industry and fostering greater collaboration.

The Autonomous Mining Working Group held a kick-off workshop in Perth, Australia, on February 22-23—the first in a series of planned workshops designed to produce the guideline. Two days of intensive brainstorming and discussion generated a starter list of what needs to be considered to create an effective and comprehensive guideline. As all sectors of the industry are affected by the advance of autonomy, delegates represented several. Included were OEMs Caterpillar, Liebherr and Epiroc; regulators from the Western Australia Department of Mines and Energy; and mining companies BHP, Rio Tinto, Roy Hill, Goldfields, and CITIC Pacific. Other stakeholders were original technology manufacturer RCT Global, and METS Ignited – a government-funded growth centre for the mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector.

“All of these diverse participants added huge value, coming from different perspectives,” says Goddard. “The input and the team we had there was phenomenal.” But as well, he says the workshop pointed up a need for more broad-based participants to ensure no aspect of autonomous mining is overlooked for the guideline. “The majority of the implementation challenges in automation are around the culture, the people, and the processes—not about the technology,” he says. “A workshop of this nature is an excellent opportunity to explore what those changes needed are and how they can be implemented in a sustainable manner.”

Goddard adds that he is pleased with the participation from the mining OEMs, “because they are the ones delivering the technology and so have the greatest familiarity with it.” However, he would like to see more representation from an underground mining perspective. “As we go to the next workshop we’d like to have the opportunity to really flesh out the guideline with some underground experience. The technology components required for underground automation, particularly the positioning and communications technologies, are rapidly maturing – and with them underground automation has the potential to leapfrog surface automation. We want to make sure we capture this.”

Based on outcomes from the Perth workshop, five task groups have been developed to enable volunteers to contribute their expertise to the development of the guideline: Business Case; Change Management and Planning; Safety and Regulatory; Design, Architecture and Data; and Human Factors.

The next workshop is scheduled for Vancouver, May 3-4—it will expand on topics and identify any missing concerns. Additional workshops—likely in Europe, Africa, South America, and the U.S.—will then be held to further advance the document. Many of these jurisdictions lack an autonomous mining deployment but all of them are contemplating doing so; therefore it’s important that the process captures their concerns as well. A complete draft is expected by September 2018 with the final document to be published by year end.

Interested parties are encouraged to contact Heather Ednie at [email protected]