Following six years of testing on seven trucks, Vale is moving to make its full fleet of 13 haul trucks at the Brucutu Mine in Mina Gerais, Brazil fully autonomous by 2019.
The fleet of Caterpillar 793F trucks will be controlled by computer systems, GPS, radars and artificial intelligence using Cat’s technology making the iron ore mine the first in Brazil to have an autonomous fleet.
Compared to the conventional transportation model, the autonomous operations system has a higher productivity. The productivity of haul trucks has significant gains. Autonomous operation also increases the life of the equipment, leads to less wear of parts and reduced maintenance costs, Vale said in a press release.
Based on technological market data, Vale expects to obtain an increase of around 15 percent in the equipment’s lifespan. Fuel consumption and maintenance costs are expected to decrease 10 percent and the average speed of trucks are expected to increase. The economy of fuel used in the machines results in lower volume of CO2 and particulate emissions.
“The use of this type of technology is increasing in the world market, not only in the mining area. The use of autonomous equipment will bring gains in productivity and competitiveness for Vale and the Brazilian industry,” said Lúcio Cavalli, Ferrous Planning and Development Director.
Brucutu’s equipment operators were moved to other functions in the mine itself or other Vale units in the region. Part of the team was used in the management and control of autonomous equipment, after having undergone training courses, which can last up to two years.
With greater use of autonomous equipment Vale is likely to create more opportunities for highly qualified professionals in the technical and engineering areas of automation, robotics and Information technology in the operational areas, the company said.
The company also said autonomy improves safety at the mine.
The technology used in the trucks can identify obstacles and changes that were not foreseen in the path determined by the control center. Upon detecting any risks, the equipment will shut down until the path is cleared again. The safety system is able to detect both larger objects such as large rocks and other trucks and also any people that are in the vicinity of the road.
The experience with autonomous equipment in Brucutu will help Vale to determine the future of the use of technology in other operations. Conversion from a mine to an autonomous operation requires significant investment, so mines with a low production volume would continue to use the traditional system. “We will carefully evaluate the results and feasibility for other operations and processes, but the prospects are promising,” said Lúcio Cavalli.
Vale began implementing a digital transformation program in 2016 to adapt itself to Industry 4.0, which will allow the company to promote the integration between the business areas around the world, reduce costs, simplify processes, increase productivity and operational efficiency, and achieve the highest levels of health and safety. The program is based on four pillars: Analytics, integrated systems and chains, robotization and autonomous equipment. The company is using Internet of Things, Advanced Analytics, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and mobile applications, among other technological innovations.