Industry Q&A: Modular Mining Discusses the Future of Fleet Management
Austmine recently caught up with Modular Mining to get their thoughts on the past, present and future landscape of fleet management within Australia.
Looking back 30 Years, what were the major differences in fleet management practices from current procedures? Has it vastly changed?
The core principles of automated fleet management optimization haven’t changed dramatically, however the scope of how mines use fleet management system (FMS) technology has expanded exponentially. Before Modular Mining’s DISPATCH system, the concept of automated haulage optimization didn’t exist. Mines relied on visual oversight to identify inefficiencies in the field, and handwritten instructions and other manual methods for making equipment assignments and dispatching decisions. For example, dispatchers would use scoreboards posted on haul road ramps to determine truck/shovel pairings. While rudimentary in nature, the use of scoreboards was an attempt to react to the constant changes in pit conditions and equipment status.
Before the advent of the FMS, mines had three options for routing heavy equipment:
The locked-out option, which consisted of fixed assignments of trucks to specific shovel and dump points, with no regard for bottlenecks or slowdowns at the pre-determined locations
Radio dispatch, in which dispatchers visually assessed the operations in the pit and verbally communicated routing instructions to equipment operators via radio
Computer assist, in which dispatchers still made visual assessments of pit activity, but assignments were transmitted to the operators via computer.
In contrast, the DISPATCH system performed calculations to determine the most effective assignments and most efficient routes for each piece of equipment. The FMS optimized the haulage cycles throughout every shift, and continuously provided information to operators as it happened. Today, there are few mines with more than 15 trucks operating without an FMS; their presence has become standard in the industry.
One of the most significant changes in practices around fleet management stems from the advancement in data-transfer speeds and connectivity. With the ability to collect, transfer, and analyze data faster, there has been a growing demand for instantaneous information distribution across the mine.
Once, FMSs focused only on optimizing the haulage route for trucks. Today, FMSs are used to optimize numerous other areas including fuelling, payload management, shift change, and material management. FMSs are also being integrated with maintenance, machine guidance, safety, and other technologies, expanding optimization across the mine and increasing the value of mine management solutions to the operation.
What are the key innovations or technologies that have been particularly game-changing for the industry over this time?
Many complementary technologies have played a significant role in expanding FMS functionality over the years. The availability of Global Positioning System (GPS) and High-Precision GPS (HPGPS), improvements in wireless communications, and increases in computing power, have played significant roles in expanding the scope of FMS capability:
- Public access to global positioning system (GPS), originally developed for the US Military and later declassified in the early 1980’s, enabled real- or near-real-time equipment tracking and positioning of mobile mining equipment.
Modular Mining leveraged GPS to further enhance the optimization capability of the DISPATCH FMS by replacing radio frequency and infrared antennas on trucks with the more sophisticated GPS receivers. GPS enables mines to locate and track equipment anywhere on the mine site, while high-precision GPS (HP-GPS) adds the ability to achieve centimetre positional accuracy, for more exact extraction of material at the face. Modular Mining was one of the first to incorporate HP-GPS into the ProVision Machine Guidance system for excavators in 1998.
In the late 1970s, 1,200bps was considered cutting edge for communication speed. Today, wireless networks routinely achieve speeds substantially faster. This robust wireless networking facilitates “always-on” communication among equipment units in the field, and from the equipment to the central office. With this comes improved data integrity and bandwidth to run multiple applications over the same infrastructure, which translates to increased efficiency, productivity, and profitability.
Today’s computers are also exponentially more powerful and are able to process the vast amounts of data generated across the mine and deliver the right information to the right people, or equipment units, in real time.
Modular Mining has leveraged the above-mentioned technological advances over the years to expand our mine management solutions into a comprehensive portfolio including our DISPATCH Fleet Management, ProVision and Guided Spotting Machine Guidance, MineCare Maintenance Management, and MineAlert Collision Awareness systems.
How has your business been able to remain a leader in the industry over the last 30 years?
From its inception, Modular Mining has been committed to providing innovative and unique solutions for solving our customers’ challenges. Ultimately, we strive to improve safety, efficiency, and productivity, while delivering measurable and sustainable value, at every mine and to every customer.
Since the first commission of the DISPATCH FMS at Phelps Dodge’s Tyrone mine in 1980, we have continued to expand our global footprint and pioneer numerous areas of mine operations management. Today, we have deployed fleet management systems at more than 250 mine sites, in every major mining region in the world.
A key element in our success is our customers. Early on, we recognized the need to be where our customers are so we can better listen to them and work alongside them to help them achieve their goals. To this end, we have established offices in 10 globally-distributed countries, enabling us to provide local support and service.
Our commitment to supporting our customers and helping them extract the maximum value from our solutions led to the formation of our Performance Assurance (PA) Program. Here, dedicated cross-functional teams of experts are deployed onsite to become immersed in the customer environment. By working side-by-side with mine personnel at all levels, PA is able to fully understand the needs of the operation and help the customer overcome their unique challenges and meet their goals.
What do you think are the 3 biggest challenges for mobile equipment optimisation as we move into the future?
Our customers continue to face the never-ending challenges of increasing productivity and efficiencies while reducing operating costs. Today, thanks to the previously mentioned technological advancements, there’s a growing amount of data that can be used to help mines solve problems. However, a new hurdle emerges in how to best connect and manage the influx of data and translate it into useful, actionable insights leading to informed decision-making.
With the advancements in automation, fleet management has moved past mobile equipment optimization and is rapidly heading toward mine-wide optimization. OEM-agnostic solutions and integrations will be a catalyst for success.
However, the mining industry is not known for the rapid adoption of new technologies. For example, autonomous haulage trucks, which have been in commercial operation for more than 10 years, are just starting to become more mainstream. A culture shift will be vital in the successful implementation of new solutions on the horizon.
As we tackle these challenges, what are the major innovations set to disrupt this space in the future?
Big Data. Internet of Things. Industry 4.0. No matter the name used, the effect on mining operations and their technology partners is the same: you must evolve and transform to remain relevant. Tomorrow’s leaders, Modular Mining included, are already laying the groundwork for advanced data integration, interoperability, and analytics. With this new approach, technology providers will gain new tools to service the mining industry’s rapidly changing needs. Adaptability, scalability, and flexibility will be the traits that companies need to keep pace with the next wave of digitization.
Going forward many mining environments will become more complex and remote, and less safe for human accessibility. It is here that 5G mobile connectivity, machine learning, specialized artificial intelligence (AI), and general AI will change the game, allowing people to operate safely from a remote location.