Automation is here, whether people like it or not. It is well and truly on its way.
We have seen the disruption of automation for years in the manufacturing sector, and now it’s happening to the mining industry.
The difference with Autonomous Vehicles in mining is that we can genuinely test automation without interacting on the public roads while.
Right now, when we look at human performance in mining, we can focus on improving through reporting tools, but how do we gauge improvement from autonomous mining trucks?
When painting a picture of the future of mining, we need to look at the exact impact of automation.
What are Autonomous Mining Trucks?
Primarily what happens with autonomous mining trucks is that a map is laid out with a load point and a dig point, and they perform behaviours at each end.
These actions are scripted.
As we have pointed out in previous articles, the process of mining is actually reasonably simple.
So, all you need to do is programme something to act once, and then it is locked in.
With autonomous trucks, the system is planned, and then the trucks are designated through a dispatching system that allocates pre-programmed tasks to those trucks, and then the trucks perform these tasks without being remotely controlled.
Autonomous mining trucks came about through a DARPA challenge in their pursuit of automating vehicle operations so that the defence forces could utilise unmanned armoured vehicles.
How Prevalent are Autonomous Mining Trucks?
As with any new emerging tech, there is a testing phase, a multi-faceted process that needs to be followed – in this case, safety and delivery.
As of 2016, only 200 autonomous mining trucks were being used worldwide. According to Mining Technology, there are now near 500.
80% of those are dominated by the Australian market, with massive investments expected that would more than triple the number operating both within Australia and globally by 2023.
There is a huge amount of operations that are in the process of taking up the automation challenge.
The hurdle with it though is the process to deliver and the cost associated with delivery.
In our opinion, the companies that are pushing autonomous mining trucks are doing so for the future value because as it stands, when considering human performance improvement, you can achieve the same sort of outcome without having to spend the amount of money on automating a mining truck.
As current fleets continue to age and are inevitably replaced, it certainly makes sense to invest in automation, and as a result, autonomous mining trucks will become more prevalent.
Having said that, some countries may be reluctant to embrace automation in their mining operations because it will eliminate jobs.
This will definitely impact upon their social licence to operate going into the future as a lot of mines are located in remote locations. This means that highly skilled labour may not be available.
What is the ROI for Autonomous Mining Trucks?
By paying upfront for autonomous mining trucks, the recoup or return on investment period will vary.
So, whether it be three, four or eight years, it really comes back to the feasibility of the deposit.
Meaning that it is a matter calculating the strip ratio of that operation and the cost to move those tonnes and factoring the capital in to purchase an Autonomous Fleet.
Most mining companies that MaxMine has interacted with have autonomous mining trucks in their future plans.
These trucks will become more prevalent and, as a result, will become far more affordable.
As more companies begin to adopt automation technology, the development of that technology becomes cheaper, and the application of that particular technology becomes far more cost-effective.
As an example, five to six years ago, a LIDAR would have cost you around $100,000. Today, you can purchase a LIDAR off eBay for less than $100.
What is the Difference Between a Mine with Autonomous Mining Trucks and a Mine Without Autonomous Trucks?
If it’s a high-grade operation, then it’s more plausible to spend money on setting up automation.
In contrast, if it is a high cost, low margin producer, then spare funds for automation are more unlikely, as they would probably opt for a second-hand fleet.
Many components impact the value of using autonomous mining trucks.
With autonomous mining, you need a lot more infrastructure.
You need a 100% connection and multiple factors to ensure that the system runs and operates effectively.
As a result, there are many more upfront costs associated with the autonomous domain.
At MaxMine, we see many opportunities to optimise autonomous systems – these are systems that will need to be monitored and improved upon, touch base with our team to see how we can help.
To find out more about the use of information technology in mining, get in touch with us.