Equipment Provider Urges Use of Autonomous SystemsWed, 10/21/2015 - 10:50
The automation of processes and machinery is one of the most promising results of innovative thinking in mining. By removing the human element from operations that can be performed remotely, mining companies can increase safety, improve efficiency, and reduce costs, three of the mining industry’s highest priorities. This technology has recently been introduced to the sector with the implementation of Komatsu’s autonomous dump trucks, which can safely navigate open-pit mines thanks to vehicle controllers, precise GPS systems, satellite connectivity, and obstacle detection capabilities. The trucks create a proximity ‘bubble’ in which to operate. If anything comes within range of this bubble, the systems communicate to determine an appropriate course of action. Features such as these allow the dump truck to safely navigate though a complex load, haul, and dump cycle as it interacts with dozers, shovels, and loaders, all using the same unmanned system. The cost benefits of these types of inventions are extremely advantageous, particularly with savings on human resources. Mexico could benefit greatly from the technology but, according to Manuel Félix Córdova, VicePresident of Operations at Road Machinery, big changes would be needed to ready the country for it. “Autonomous Haulage Systems require that several conditions be met in order to be operative and profitable,” he says. “The initial setup cost, the specialized training, and the delicate operation and maintenance of this technology, requires several operational, technical, and financial preconditions. This technology is one of Komatsu’s flagship products and will not be implemented unless we can be sure that all parties will profit from it.”
Road Machinery sells, services, and rents mining equipment, primarily from Komatsu, but also from a range of other manufacturers. Komatsu bought the company in 2000, before selling it to Mitsui & Co in 2005. Today, Road Machinery has 14 facilities in North America, including two in Mexico. The company is continuously developing with Komatsu and is investing internally to offer further cost savings to its customers. According to Córdova, the support that Road Machinery receives from its suppliers helps to achieve this goal due to their dedication to investment in innovation. With such close connections to Japanese companies, Road Machinery has adopted some of the Japanese business philosophies and is applying them to its practices here in Mexico. “Ethics, discipline, respect, and honor are all values that are aligned within the politics of the company,” explains Córdova. “It is very important to Mitsui that Road Machinery operates under Japanese principles. Values such as honor and vulnerability help our customers have more trust in our company. They know that they are in very good hands with Road Machinery.” This Japanese focus also relates to technology. Córdova explains that Japanese companies understand that a strong focus of mining customers is to improve on savings. “In order to do so, an investment in technology can pay off, making Road Machinery a logical. In the specific case of Komatsu products, our Autonomous Haulage Systems and our Remote Monitoring System are far superior to the competition,” he claims.
Besides Komatsu’s reputation for producing high-quality technology, the Japanese giant has sufficient resources to acquire new electrical equipment from GE and Siemens, which can then be applied to electrical loaders, which are, in turn, powered by on-board diesel-powered generators. “The difference between electronic and mechanical equipment is that it is easier for the electrical system to hold more sensors,” states Córdova. “Data is then sent to the ECM, which is the brain of the equipment. It holds this data and sends it to a server via satellite. That server then digests the information and reports on everything that has happened along every centimeter of the cables or the track. The entire process makes it easier for engineers to study behavior patterns in the truck.”
Besides being prepared for a boom in autonomous machinery, and adhering to Japanese values, another of Road Machinery’s unique selling points is its capability for financial support services. Road Machinery can count on receiving financial support from the likes of Komatsu Financial, Mitsui, and GE Capital, all of which provide Córdova with confidence that his company can meet the business needs of the market. Since few distributors offer this level of financial support, Road Machinery stands to prosper in a time where so many have dwindled and deteriorated.