RCT helps to deliver world-first at an African mine site

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Operators at Bathopele mine in Rustenburg, South Africa are now operating an Autonomous Battery Electric Loader in what is believed to be a world first.

RCT together with a South African OEM installed our ControlMaster® Automation onto the electric loader and delivered RCT’s Automation Centre into an office on the surface. This removes the need for operators to be in a potentially hazardous mining working conditions and allows them to use the latest in cutting-edge technology to retrieve ore at the platinum mine.

In addition to this, RCT Connect, a specialised underground communications network was also implemented to further enhance autonomous operations and improve overall connectivity at the mine; something that was integral at the remote site.

The site’s decision to implement this level of technology was necessary to navigate a unique mining situation.

“The mine is looking towards cleaner energy in pursuit of decarbonisation, and creating a safer working environment, by introducing battery electric technology onto their fleet,” said RCT’s Africa BDM Mike Thomas.

The new addition of the electric loader is by far the most futuristic way of mining. When coupled with RCT’s Automation Systems, it will see operators relocate from the machine operating in a confined situation and relocate them to the comfort of an Automation Centre on the surface.

“The Automation Centre situated on the surface, provides a vastly improved ergonomic environment for the machine operators when compared with the cab of an ultra-low profile loader,” he said.

In addition to the benefits to the operator. The addition of the battery-electric hydrostatically driven loader reduces diesel particulates underground.

"The Automation system has engaged and empowered the operator and maintenance teams on site,” said RCT’s ControlMaster® Product Manager, Paul Taylor.

“The equipment is designed to be simple to set up, allowing the work area to expand and move as required without needing an RCT presence on site to do so. In addition to this, we set up support chat groups with the team on site giving them direct contact with the RCT technician workforce. This was paired with a VPN connection to the site so we can dial in and assist with any questions that they have from anywhere in the world.”

RCT’s ControlMaster® is still the only proven, interoperable automation platform that can be integrated across any mobile equipment make, type or model and this latest project showcases the company’s ability to automate batter-electric fleets brilliantly.

Everyone on site, from upper management to the operators and maintenance crew has really embraced the new technology and learning a new skill.

“Training was of utmost importance to the site. The Bathopele team created a purpose-built test facility which provides an ideal environment for cold commissioning of the ControlMaster® Smart Technology, for the important operator and maintenance training and to build confidence levels of their teams,” said Mr Thomas.

“In addition to this, Sibanye-Stillwater created an educational video for workers detailing how to correctly use, service and take care of the technology on site.”

This technology puts the site in a great position to mine efficiently, and safely paves the way for the future of mining.

Sibanye-Stillwater assigned two female operators to control the Autonomous machine from the surface who have both been very accepting of the technology and found it easy to use.

“We view the multiple ergonomic and safety benefits of remote and autonomous operation as a significant enabler to our drive to create an inclusive operating environment that supports woman in mining,” said the team at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Bathopele mine.

“The right partnerships are key to any successful technology initiative of this nature, and we are extremely pleased with the partnership we have with RCT in this regard. Both their offsite and onsite support ensures that we’re able to overcome challenges effectively and give the technology the best chance of success.”

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