Autonomous systems to ?lift quarrying out of the dark ages?

The Hitachi Social Innovation Forum, which was held in late November in Brisbane, provided local industry leaders the opportunity to explore key trends and stimulate discussion about the ‘digital transformation’ of the mining industry.

Hosted by Hitachi global executive vice president Masakazu Aoki, the forum also touched upon the reasons behind the supplier’s $875 million investment into its Australian Social Innovation business.

“Owing to the company’s belief that Australia’s mining sector is an undisputed world leader, Hitachi has focused the bulk of this investment in Australian mining in order to further accelerate the industry locally through digital advancements and the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), and then export this innovation to other parts of the world,” a media release for the company said.

“Game-changing innovations, such as remote and integrated operations centres, autonomous vehicles and analytics, will have been filtered down from being used only by Australia’s largest mining companies, to being commonplace across the entire industry in less than 15 years.”

The autonomous future

{{quote-A:R-W:300-I:2-Q:"It will lift the quarrying industry out of the dark ages and it will be very interesting to see that in the next 15 to 20 years."-WHO:Anthony Finch, Hitachi Australia principal mining engineer}}

Discussing how the company had come to make its prediction about the industry’s autonomous future, Hitachi Australia principal mining engineer Anthony Finch told Quarry that it came down to two principal factors – safety and operating costs.

“The driving force behind this is to remove people from harm’s way, which is very important to all miners, and to reduce operating costs,” Finch said.

“Technology has proven that autonomous trucks have a remarkable impact on operating costs – for example, miners are recording operating cost reductions of up to 20 per cent using autonomous vehicles and that’s having people out of harm’s way, out of the pit.

“Because of these benefits, Hitachi believes that this technology is only going to become more and more mainstream.”

Finch acknowledged that there was a potential risk of the industry coming to rely too much on this technology but he noted the benefits “far outweighed” the risk.

“The technology that enables the autonomy is unreliable to be sure – particularly the radio network,” he said. “Mines will certainly slow down if something goes wrong, but the focus would be getting that system back up again. A lot of money and time is going into making the operating systems robust so that if these systems do go down, [they won’t] for very long.”

He added that because of this, quarrying and mining professionals will notice a transition into technical and maintenance roles in order to keep the infrastructure in working order, adding mines will continue to require workers who can monitor and run things remotely.

When asked if he also believed this rang true for the quarrying industry, Finch answered with a resounding “yes”, adding he predicted that within the next 10 to 15 years, most quarries will own a fleet of “half a dozen autonomous trucks”.

“I think that’s going to happen and that will be very exciting because that will be a game changer for the quarrying industry,” Finch said.

“It will lift the quarrying industry out of the dark ages and it will be very interesting to see that in the next 15 to 20 years.”

The Hitachi Social Innovation Forum took place in Brisbane on 28 November, 2017.

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