NOW HIRING! Explore a Career at SMS Equipment. View Opportunities
Experts' Corner

Autonomous Haulage – Laying the Roadmap

When it comes to improving the productivity of a mining operation, automating repetitive hauling tasks with Automated Haulage Systems (AHS) can be a game-changer. The technology reduces the costs of moving materials and improves consistency due to the substantial data collecting capabilities of AHS. In addition, the system continuously provides valuable insights for improving other aspects of the operation.

However, getting the full benefit of this technology requires a comprehensive change management process that includes input from all levels. It starts many months before the first system is switched on. 

In this edition of Experts' Corner, we asked Scott Schellenberg, SMS Equipment's Senior Manager of Smart Mining Solutions, to explain the technology's basics for getting optimum results. 
What are the main reasons why mines are looking at autonomous haulage?

What are the main reasons why mines are looking at autonomous haulage?

Equipment utilization is the most obvious one. Most mines today can't find enough operators, and as a result, they're leaving equipment sitting idle. And related to that is that human operators require interruptions for shift changes, lunch breaks, safety meetings, and other activities, so the equipment doesn't get fully utilized. With autonomous operation, you're unlocking those hours that are not accessible in a conventional operation. 

AHS also gives you better consistency of operation. For example, autonomous trucks move at the exact speed they're supposed to, and they line up perfectly with the shovel so that the shovel operator doesn't ever have to ask the driver to re-spot the truck to load correctly. That way, you improve the efficiency of hauling and other aspects of the operation. 

What are the first steps that mines should take?

The biggest challenge, yet most impactful, of deploying an autonomous haulage system is having a robust change management process in place, beginning with a thorough evaluation of the technology applied to the existing operation. Upon successful evaluation, mines will generally assemble a cross-functional team, including representatives from operations, HR and labour relations, mine planning, engineering, and maintenance, who will be tasked with adapting the existing equipment.

At this point, we also enter into a non-disclosure agreement with the customer that enables us to share proprietary information about some of the technical details. 
We support our customers throughout this process, sharing our knowledge of known success factors and also assessing from our standpoint whether the technology can be deployed in a value-added way. If the evaluation shows that AHS is not a good fit for a particular mine, we are very clear in recommending that the customer not attempt to implement it. 

Our recommendations for optimal application are then formalized through our Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) process. So, for example, if a road has to be widened so an AHS truck can run on it, this comes at a cost that must be factored in when you weigh the whole value proposition.

When a strong business case is demonstrated, what are the next steps?

Once the business case has been confirmed, the mine needs regulatory approval to deploy autonomous vehicles. These approvals are more than the use of the technology – the mine has to demonstrate that they understand how the system works and have segregation plans to keep autonomous equipment working only in designated areas. In addition, the mine needs safety and emergency procedures in place. The whole process typically takes about 12 months.

We have a group of about over 20 subject matter experts that work to train the customer in the field and help them through their regulatory processes. In some provinces, this is new territory for regulators, so we're often called upon to bring the regulators up to speed with the technology and the various safety implications. 

In parallel with that, we start work on putting an autonomous system in place, which involves setting up a central server that integrates with the existing IT systems. We also order Equipped Manual Vehicle (EMV) kits that outfit the existing equipment, e.g., loaders and dozers, with the technology they will need to communicate with the autonomous trucks. 
What about bringing operators up to speed?

What about bringing operators up to speed?

Once again, this is new territory not just for the operators but for many others involved in day-to-day operations. We learned early that training many people can be disruptive to operations unless appropriately managed. So we generally start the training and change management process three to six months before the system becomes live to minimize disruption. We've also made a substantial investment in simulation technology so the operations people can get familiar with the system long before it's deployed and get some good basic training. 

What happens on day one?

The key here is for operations people to learn how to apply the technology to reach optimum productivity. Each mine is unique, so much of this can only be realized when the system goes live. We provide substantial on-site support during this period, which typically lasts about three months, to transition the system's operation over to the customer as soon as possible. 

Once that's achieved, however, we see that not as an end but a beginning. AHS systems gather much more data than mines are used to, which proves to be significant in supporting continuous improvement aspects of the mining operation. So, the learning continues. 

The bottom line

AHS systems are much more than a technology to be "implemented" – it is a powerful, innovative mining technology that supports continuously improving mine sites' quality, safety, and efficiency. 
Stay tuned for a future feature of Experts' Corner, where Scott will share his insights on how AHS systems can act as the gateway for a new generation of smart mining.

Autonomous Haulage Systems
Our world-class Autonomous Program Team is ready to work with you and identify areas where Smart Technologies improve productivity and efficiency. With you, we can tailor the optimum solution, covering all aspects of AHS implementation.

Most importantly, you’re not left to manage the technology on your own – we support your mine every step of the way. 

Telematics for Mining

Access all data, trends, fault codes and payload information at your fingertips, with no extra costs.

KOMTRAX Plus for mining equipment is Komatsu’s remote equipment health monitoring system, allowing mine operators to track equipment performance over time and configure analytics capable of alerting you on equipment issues. 

Collision Awareness Management
Protection of mine site equipment, infrastructure, and personnel is a major requirement on mine sites and presents great demands on collision awareness solutions. The avoidance of mine site accidents demands a combination of technologies to assist operators and reduce risk. Collision awareness and assistance technology must be able to also warn of these risks.

Trolley-Assist Technology
Komatsu continues to build on a 30-year history of trolley-assist innovation. Partnering with essential support networks such as SMS Equipment provides the building blocks and turnkey solutions for unique mining operations. As a mining technology leaders and program deployment specialists, we can ensure support of your mine from feasibility analysis to program implementation and execution.
Subscribe to Our Monthly Mining Newsletter
Get Free Expert Advice
Increase your knowledge and receive expert-level advice on in-depth topics, emailed directly to your inbox.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Sign Up!

Reach out to our experts

Our in-depth understanding of the mining industry has helped us provide mining-specific solutions, which means solutions unlike any other industry on earth.

We're here to help your business excel along the way. Send us a message below and we will respond shortly.