Sophisticated mobile equipment control and auto-guidance is at the heart of some of the mining industry's major productivity enhancement projects that now have technology as a central generative lever. An Australian company working closely with project proponents sees strong international growth prospects forming on the back of the emerging productivity trend.
Remote Control Technologies, which has been at the forefront of longer term technology-led innovation in mine safety for 40 years, has many of the world's leading mining and contracting companies as long term clients. Increased demand for advanced mining machine remote control and guidance systems created a mini-boom in RCT product sales in recent years.
But it is in the area of project delivery that the unique, world-class service capability created by RCT is being stretched to meet the demands of miners seeking productivity and safety gains from a toolbox of heavy-equipment control, guidance, protection and tracking technologies.
Still supplying the cutting-edge tools, RCT is developing an international reputation for integrating and successfully deploying available technologies, often breaking new ground technically; always ensuring the technology and support mechanisms are robust enough for the abrasive work environment.
"The technology has to work," said RCT engineering manager Neil Morrish.
"This is a group that has worked with every type of machine, and every type of control system in use in the mining industry around the world. They have done an enormous amount of system integration with proprietary and non-proprietary products, customising products to adapt them to certain applications to suit the customers' needs, and retrofitting technology to large, mixed fleets of equipment.
"There's a high level of engineering involved and that's reflected in the growth of this projects division, which has become a world class engineering unit.
"[RCT] Projects has worked, and is working directly with the research and development teams of a number of global mining companies to create integrated solutions that will be the used in automated remotely managed mining.
"In this respect RCT is at the leading edge of future mining technology."
A veteran of the department, projects manager Shane Smith said the RCT Projects division had created solutions for mobile equipment owners and operators in a range of industries, including mining, earthmoving, transport, agriculture, construction and materials handling.
"Productivity improvements using automation are a core competency," he said.
"We are more involved now in creating flexible solutions that allow remote control and semi-autonomous operation from remote operations centres in the one solution.
"We have a long track record of successfully integrating RCT products into live production operations. Work is scoped and managed with a systems engineering approach where external products are bought in and integrated with RCT products to create a custom solution. We work directly with all internal and external suppliers to modify existing products and software to meet the customer's needs then create documentation and support material."
Each project is managed by a dedicated project manager who is responsible for all aspects of the project from concept to delivery. Customers are updated on a regular basis with progress and schedule information, and all projects are supported and service with RCT's training and customer service team.
"We have put in a strong project management team, and processes. We've enhanced our reporting and project management skills," Smith said.
"We've also resourced up our labour force on the floor, ranging from mechatronic electrical engineers, electronic and electrical engineers, and then obviously our tradespeople, principally our auto-electricians, that bring the machine and field knowledge into the team as well."
Smith said the projects team had also worked with clients to implement custom solutions.
Successful major projects, some conducted over several years, have been completed in Australia, Indonesia, Africa ,New Zealand, Chile and Papua New Guinea, and this list was growing, Smith said.
Some projects had also created enhanced technologies, such as the surface blast-hole drill tele-remote capability that had come out of a long-term drill automation project; surface control stations for underground tele-remote equipment at a major Queensland mine that were already being deployed elsewhere; and a new underground haul truck semi-autonomous guidance package.
"The advantage that we've got with the capabilities of our projects team is we have the ability to offer a complete package," Smith said.
"And when I say a complete package I mean we can draw on the machine and industry knowledge for remote controlling and teleremoting for pretty much any piece of mobile equipment, but we also have the capability to design and engineer control stations to adapt to any application; to design and implement the communications infrastructure and design; and to complete any level of system integration.
"We can retrofit appropriate technology to any piece of equipment - we have the skillsets in house to engineer mechanically and electrically, hydraulic-electric interfaces and so forth.
"The project is the whole system; it's not just remoting a machine. And we back that up with a strong customer service team, and all the relevant training and documentation.
"We have the capability to research where our equipment will be going and we look at the local regulations and requirements to make sure what we put into those markets does comply with the country's standards. So we've got a dedicated team member within RCT that looks at the legislative requirements and so forth.
"And the aftersales support that we can provide is second to none, with training and parts and so forth. We hear a lot about our competitors not having those support mechanisms there .
"But I don't know what our customers would do if they weren't in place." The customer service provided by RCT is by the far the best in the industry.