Milestone for Komatsu autonomous mine haul trucks

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  • Earthmovers & Exacavators

Komatsu’s Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) mine haul trucks have hit a milestone, moving 330 million tonnes of material while being monitored by a single controller per shift located up to thousands of kilometres away.

Milestone for Komatsu autonomous mine haul trucks
A Komatsu FrontRunner mine haul truck fleet.

While it’s a common misconception that the trucks are remote-controlled, the company points out that its FrontRunner trucks run completely autonomously.

Based on conventional large mining trucks, they are able to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which Komatsu says delivers "significant safety, productivity, reliability, performance and operational benefits to mine fleet owners".

Komatsu Australia managing director Sean Taylor says the FrontRunners are typically loaded by conventionally operated manned loading tools – such as shovels or front-end loaders – and then haul overburden to waste dumps or paddock dumps for spreading, or haul mined resources to the crusher area or stockpiles.

"Each truck incorporates a combination of vehicle controllers, precision GPS, an obstacle detection system (ODS) using radar and laser, and a wireless network system developed by Komatsu," Taylor says.

The AHS Central Control System incorporates a detailed map of the mine area, including haul roads, loading areas, dump areas and refuelling and maintenance areas, and assigns required routes to each truck, whether overburden hauling or ore hauling.

Each loading tool is also fitted with high-precision GPS and an integrated touch-screen computer showing the location and direction of movement of all items of mobile plant within the FrontRunner fleet’s operations area.

As each truck approaches the loading area, the loading tool operator uses his or her on-board touch-screen computer to ‘spot’ the truck to the correct loading location, ‘telling’ the truck when it can move into position to be loaded and then, once it is loaded, that it can move off to the dump area.

In dumping, the autonomous system is able to handle the different requirements of the mine, depending on the material to be dumped, whether to fixed crusher plant locations for mined ore or to overburden waste dumps.

Taylor says safety has been Komatsu’s first priority: "Each FrontRunner truck’s ODS can detect light mine vehicles and other mobile mine equipment, slowing or stopping the trucks when required.

"One of the biggest safety issues with dump truck operation is fatigue, particularly at night," he adds.

"Mine personnel have reported that they feel far safer and less stressed with FrontRunner trucks operating around them, because they know their movements are constant and predictable 100 percent of the time."

Taylor says that operating the autonomous haul trucks requires far fewer workers.

"Typically a Komatsu 930E truck in a 24/7 operation requires up to a total of five operators, to cover shift changes and FIFO work patterns," he says, "but with FrontRunner trucks, just a single controller per shift is required to supervise the entire truck fleet.

"On the other hand, autonomous truck operation requires significantly higher skills – and more people – to maintain and keep the system going, including specialists in electronics, GPS and control systems," he adds. 

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