How is the quarrying and mining sector embracing change?

Mining and quarrying have long been, in most aspects, ahead of construction regarding the use of new technology. With autonomous operation becoming more established newer forms of tech, such as remote operation are increasingly being explored, reports Andy Brown

New technologies are increasingly being used in quarrying and mining (Photo: Telleo)

According to industry experts, The Parker Bay Company’s Surface Mining Equipment Index, which tracks sales of mining equipment, 2023 had a strong start to the year before sales declined in the latter half of the year. Like construction, it is a cyclical industry and so it is worth noting that from 2020 sales have been rising and so these declines come from a position of strength.

Regarding the value of the market, in the fourth quarter of 2023, the company says that it is, “back to the level achieved in Q2 2021 when the market began the latest growth cycle. This represents a nearly half billion dollar decline in US dollar terms for all represented manufacturers.

“Because the weaker second half of 2023 followed strong growth in the first, shipments were actually up 1.4% year-over-year with aggregate value greater by 6.5% due to higher values of the machines delivered (constant-dollar). The overall decline in global shipments is not spread evenly across products and especially geographic and mineral sectors.”

Lack of workers

There are parallels to construction equipment, which is also predicted to see a decline in 2024, but from a healthy level. Another similarity between the two sectors is the issue of a lack of skilled workers.

US-based Tomahawk Construction is developing land to create a new 700-acre residential community in Naples, Florida, but its owner, Scott Lyons, reveals, “We really have just had a hard time getting people into haul trucks.”

One way to address this is through the use of technology. Tomahawk Construction is using Teleo, which builds autonomous technology for heavy equipment to provide a solution to address Tomahawk’s labour shortage. Teleo retrofits any make, model and year of heavy equipment with its technology that enables remote and autonomous operations of the machines.

“I am the first operator in the world to run multiple articulated dump trucks at once,” says Tomahawk machine operator Max Bogacz. Specifically, he remotely operates three Teleo-equipped articulated dump trucks (ADTs) on the Naples jobsite, simultaneously, from a command center 40 miles away in Fort Myers.

Bogacz remotely operates three Teleo-equipped articulated dump trucks from a command centre 40 miles away (Photo: Teleo)

Tomahawk recently became the first customer to get Teleo’s autonomous capabilities on their machines. This means that while machines are set to autonomous mode, they can perform routine and repetitive tasks on their own, like hauling materials from one point to another. If there are complex tasks that the autonomous technology cannot yet fully handle, the machine waits for the operator and Bogacz is there to take over. Bogacz switches between machines with the press of a button.

Autonomous ADT

Another technology venture for the sector has launched between four companies that will – they hope – future-proof the effectiveness and competitiveness of quarrying operations within the minerals and aggregates industry.

The companies – Chepstow Plant International (CPI), Bell Equipment, technology platform specialist, xtonomy, and global materials solutions company Sibelco – are working to produce an autonomous articulated dump truck (ADT).

The launch event for the venture was held at Sibelco’s quarry in Devon, UK, with a full demonstration of the new autonomous solution within a working quarry setting.

Interactive presentations highlighted on-board hardware and software technologies, including radar sensors, GPS, multi-channel communication systems and on-board processing hardware. They have been incorporated by xtonomy into a standard B40E dump truck to create an Autonomous-Ready drive by wire B40E solution.

Teleo enabled Tomahawk Articulated Dump Trucks and Excavator (Photo: Teleo)

The combination is said to offer autonomy with a navigation system that plans ADT paths and predictively controls the vehicle around the entire quarry site.

The pilot scheme aims to demonstrate the potential to reduce vehicular incidents and subsequent accidents as well as upskilling then the existing workforce to further support the future of quarry operations.

Autonomous ADTs should be able to operate for longer periods during the working day, deliver accurate tipping results, and ensure that the existing quarry shift patterns can be tailored to improve productivity. Another benefit could be improved component life and reduced wear and tear on the trucks, leading to improved asset availability for quarries.

“We envisage many benefits from having access to this sector-first autonomous ADT solution,” said Ben Uphill, director of operations, Kingsteignton Cluster at quarry-owner, Sibelco. “The minerals and aggregates sector must embrace technology as a way of continually delivering improvements across our daily operations and cost base.”

Industry giant Caterpillar recently released its annual report for 2023 in which it revealed that its resource industries segment, which includes quarrying and mining equipment, saw sales of US$13.6 billion, a 10% increase compared to 2022.

The OEM also mentioned some highlights for the sector in the report. These that included ten years of autonomous operations with over 630 large mining trucks running worldwide, an expanded customer electrification engagement with CRH to advance the deployment of 70 to 100-ton-class battery electric off-highway trucks and charging solutions and the demonstration of its first battery electric prototype underground mining truck with semi-autonomous capability.

Hauling serious loads
Rokbak says that customer feedback is often heavily focused on the reliability of equipment (Photo: Rokbak)

Technology will, of course, play a part – a big part – in the future of quarrying and mining equipment but as we look to the future contractors and projects owners also have to keep an eye on the hear and now and ensure that these machines are as efficient and productive as ever.

Scott Pollock, senior product manager, Rokbak, says much of the customer feedback is focused on the reliability of a workhorse that can answer modern jobsite demands. “At the end of the day,” he says, “the customer wants a hauler that works hard, with minimal downtime, that’s cost-effective, easy to operate and that’s productive.”

Rokbak haulers are focused on performance, driven by a combination of heavy-duty axles, drivetrain gear reduction and differential locks. As with the majority of ADTs, all three axles of Rokbak’s RA30 and RA40, remain in permanent all-wheel drive, giving enhanced traction, as well as reducing driveline wear and wheel spin.

Both machines feature transmission retarders, with the RA40 equipped with a variable retarder, which increases levels of control for operators, particularly reassuring when having to haul on very steep inclines.

The hauling power of the machines is impressive, with the RA30’s engine delivering 276kW and a maximum torque of 1880Nm at 1400rpm, and its big brother, the RA40 boasting engine power of 331kW and a maximum torque of 2255Nm at 1300rpm.

Rokbak’s regional sales manager for EMEA, Kenny Price, says, “Torque and rim pull are areas we focus on when it comes to the design of the trucks. They need to have that torque and pull when they’re fully loaded to move in an efficient manner.”

As well as trucks, large excavators also play a key role in in this segment and it was recently announced that Swiss company Steinbruch Mellikon AG has complemented its two longstanding production machines, which are slowly becoming redundant after more than 20,000 hours, with a new Hitachi Construction Machinery (HCM) ZX890LCR-7. This investment in the latest technology is a significant one for a limestone quarry that was established in 1912 in the Aargau Jura mountains.

Four firms are working together on producing an autonomous ADT (Photo: CPi)

Steinbruch Mellikon AG’s managing director, André Schärer, has responsibility for the whole operation and as part of the decision-making process, he was able to take his main operator Giuseppe Lavorato to Germany, where he tried out the same model. “It’s important that an experienced operator like Giuseppe is happy with the machine, so that he can have no complaints afterwards,” he says.

Steinbruch Mellikon AG was founded in 1988 and it is now owned by Umbricht Holding AG, Kalt Holding AG and Guido Kalt. The company has a licence to extract the high-quality Jura limestone from the Mellikon quarry until 2026.

The ZX890LCR-7 prepares and loads the blasted rock into one of the site’s two articulated dump trucks or rigid dump truck. Every year, between 400,000 and 500,000 tonnes of materials are processed in the site’s crushing and screening plant into various sizes of products for a wide range of applications.

There’s no doubt that technology is changing this sector and that its impact will only accelerate. Caterpillar announced back in 2023 that its autonomous trucks have travelled more than 200 million km and hauled more than 5.5 billion tonnes without a single injury – those figures will now be even higher. The advent of Artificial Intelligence will play a role in this sector and in making autonomous machines more efficient than ever.

“AI will revolutionize the way we interact with machines and design interfaces between systems. It’s fascinating and changing at a very rapid rate,” says Caterpillar chief information officer and IT senior vice president, Jamie Engstrom. It really is a case of, watch this space.

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