Published by Australia’s Mining Monthly Magazine. Written by Andrew Snelling.
WHEN you are operating big pieces of mining equipment underground, a little guidance can go a long way.
Remote Control Technologies’ ControlMaster® division has launched the third version of its real-time guidance solution for teleremote operations, an on-machine control unit which provides operators with a number of tools to safely navigate their mines.
“The guidance system controls the steering, speed and braking of the machine when it’s travelling underground,” RCT products manager Dave Holman explained.
“When it comes to underground remote operations, the ability to control the machine safely and also having the best productivity at the lowest cost is what’s driving a lot of our customers to implement the RCT guidance system.
“The guidance system controls the machine as it drives down the drive, stops it banging into the walls and drives at a speed that will allow the customers to operate at their most efficient without putting excessive wear and tear on the machine.”
The V3 guidance system builds on the features of its predecessors, while offering some wider capabilities for higher degrees of automation.
According to Holman, the V3 system has greatly improved on the speed, steering and braking features of the previous V2.3 system, also handling corners a lot better.
The system can be switched on or off from a joystick control unit and the digital display will tell the operator whether they are in guidance operation or not.
Brand new features of the V3 system also offer large benefits, including its expansion from loaders to include use on underground trucks, as well as its automated tramming ability.
“The guidance system is now moving into new areas where it will automatically tram from one location to the next,” Holman said.
“So what happens is a machine would have a pre-planned route from one location to the other, the operator would put it on its path and the machine will travel from one location to the next and then when it gets to the other location it will stop and the operator takes over and does his work.
“So that then also improves things such as cycle times and efficiency when it comes to the operation.
The guidance system will allow second or higher gears to be selected to improve the speed of automated tramming cycles depending on the tramming length, minimum width of the drive and the look-ahead distance, in essence allowing the vehicle to travel at the highest speed to suit the mine conditions.
“The other new area is that the guidance feature is not just related to loaders it was also introduced to underground trucks,” Holman said.
“With the underground trucks we’ve called it the operator assist because it helps operators effectively drive the machine down the decline, maintaining a safe speed and also a safe path in the underground mines and keeping the machine off the walls.”
As cycle times and efficiency improve through use of the V3 system, Holman said operators could improve their fleet utilisation, hiking up profitability as they spend less on maintenance related to operator error.
“Their [the operator’s] efficiency of operation, their profitability and their road cost in maintaining really gives them a better bottom line,” he said.
“When it comes to underground operations right across Australia they’re looking at how technology can improve their operation and a lot of the major companies and contractors are already adopting this technology and are seeing some very good benefits coming out of it already.
“In some situations their return on their investment occurs in a very short period of time.”
Of course, RCT is not the only company to realise mine operators want greater automation and increased safety and efficiency.
Original equipment manufacturers have been spurred by industry demand to offer technology packages with their vehicles, however, RCT argues it has some persuasive points of difference.
“The OEM’s definitely have an automation package they offer as part of their machine offering but where RCT is a point of difference is our system is compatible with various machine types,” Holman said.
“We’re not aligned to any OEM, but we’ll work with every OEM on adapting our package to suit their machines.
“The other real point of difference with RCT is because we’re the OEM [of guidance technology], we design, we develop, we maintain, we service, we manufacture and support our product range. So we’re the experts on our own range.
“When we’re going to a site and installing the gear, they’re [the operator’s] not getting third parties to install it, it’s usually our own people and they’re the ones that are intimately involved with the product.
“It’s a real point of difference that we have with all of our other competitors. We are the OEM and we support our product in the field.
According to RCT, V3 requires minimal upgrade for existing ControlMaster® teleremote customers and incurs no communications setup costs.