Caterpillar Brings Autonomous Tech to Industrial, Large-scale Mining

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【Summary】Interestingly, without needing to take lunch breaks, rest periods or shift rotations, the autonomous mining trucks are capable of contributing an additional 2.5 hours of work per day.

  Michael Cheng  ·  Oct 03, 2017 10:47 AM PT
author: Michael Cheng   

In industrial markets, self-driving technology will make operations safer, more efficient and less costly. This is why Caterpillar, a service fleet manufacturer for oil and gas, mining and large-scale construction, is interested in incorporating driverless platforms with its offerings.

Last month, the company announced a timely agreement involving a massive autonomous retrofit project with Fortescue Metals Group, an Australia-based iron ore producer, which ranks fourth in the world.

Read on to learn about the details of the agreement and Caterpillar's plans to improve the value of their existing products with self-driving platforms.

Mining with Driverless Trucks

Currently, Fortescue utilizes roughly 56 driverless CAT 793F vessels at local mines in the area. According to the company, the fleet has been operational since 2013, with over 400 million tons of mining materials transported over the span of 4.5 years. This existing fleet of driverless trucks has boosted productivity on the site by a whopping 20 percent, resulting in an impressive system availability rate of 99.95 percent.

Interestingly, without needing to take lunch breaks, rest periods or shift rotations, the robust units are capable of contributing an additional 2.5 hours of work per day.

The autonomous vehicles communicate with over 150 human-powered trucks on the site, such as loaders and dozers. The CAT MineStar platform oversees all of the vessels in the fleet during operation.

Based on these results, it's easy to see why Fortescue and CAT agreed to expand the partnership. The agreement includes the upgrade of 100 CAT and Komatsu units in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. During the project, engineers will install the CAT Command for Hauling platform inside vessels.

"Caterpillar is pleased to build on the success we have had working with Fortescue to implement autonomous mining solutions," said Jean Savage, Caterpillar vice president with responsibility for the Surface Mining & Technology Division.

Scaling Autonomous Retrofit Solutions

CAT, as a leading pioneer of industrial systems, understands the roadblocks and challenges that businesses in the competitive mining sector must overcome in order to stay relevant. A current reality is that mining operators normally leverage mixed fleets. Due to budget constraints, it is common for companies to purchase or rent vessels with different brands, models and features.

"Obviously the systems change when you go from one vehicle to another," highlighted Michael Fleming, CEO of Torc, based out of Blacksburg, Virginia.  "With the 930E project, we were able to bring in experienced engineers that understand autonomy and what the trade-offs are, and then work with CAT's expertise to create a product that works well. This is very complex technology; there are a lot of moving parts."

In order to boost CAT's ability to provide autonomous retrofit solutions for a diverse range of fleets, the company is turning to Cisco. The IT-network business handles raw data processing from live sites and repackages them for analysts and software developers. For its visual intelligence layer, CAT is looking to Trimble's 3D environment-related services. The Sunnyvale, California-based establishment provides technologies for flying cars, laser rangefinders and GPS systems.

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