With the global mining industry still digging out of commodity slowdowns, much of the heavy equipment on display at this year’s MINExpo International exhibition was geared toward solving technological problems in time for the next boom.
The fully autonomous mine is not yet a reality, but equipment manufacturers had new ideas to display at the quadrennial trade show. Komatsu displayed a fully autonomous hauler with no operator cab and a 230-metric-ton payload. The Innovative Autonomous Haulage Vehicle can work on sites without external input from an operator, the company said during the show, held in Las Vegas on Sept. 26-28.
While Komatsu has had autonomous haulage vehicles on mine sites since 2008, the progress toward cab-less design is changing the profile of dump trucks. By eliminating the cab, Komatsu engineers were able to distribute more evenly the load across the four wheels. This innovation, along with four-wheel drive, allows the truck to travel efficiently in both forward and reverse, reducing the need for K-turns while loading and unloading.
Komatsu executives also discussed the company’s $3.7-billion acquisition of Wisconsin-based mining equipment maker Joy Global. The deal, announced in July 2016, is expected to close by mid-2017. “Our customers are sharing very positive feedback about the agreement. Some have approached us at MINExpo to congratulate us on our decision,” said Tetsuji Ohashi, Komatsu president and CEO.
“Many of our customers and other business partners see the benefit of combining companies,” said Joy Global President and CEO Ted Doherty in a press statement at the show. “[We’ll offer] a broader offering of products, systems and solutions across a wider scope of mining and construction applications.”
Not everything at the show was for mining alone. John Deere chose to feature its electric powertrain technology for off-highway equipment. The company’s powertrain system is modular, allowing the system to be deployed in a wide variety of machines. It also showcased its PowerTech E-4.5L engine, which boasts a common-rail fuel system with electronic fuel injection. “The Tier 3, 4.5-liter engine is well suited for the extreme working conditions of underground mining applications,” said Darren Treptow, worldwide marketing manager for Deere.
Mining With Augmented Reality
Trimble has been working on augmented-reality technology for construction and previewed its mining-focused augmented-reality module at MINExpo. Known as Trimble Connected Mine Visual Intelligence, the system is compatible with augmented-reality headsets, such as Microsoft HoloLens. The system takes data from Trimble’s Connected Mine data analysis environment and projects it into a HoloLens wearer’s field of view.
Data from Connected Mine includes tables, graphs and dashboards of live information from a mine site. Microsoft’s HoloLens headset is a augmented-reality headset that can superimpose images and holograms onto surfaces around the user.
“Using Trimble Connected Mine Visual Intelligence with Microsoft HoloLens provides an interface to our data that has massive potential,” said Johan Smet, general manager of Trimble Mining. “It enables mining professionals to improve collaboration and communication by visualizing and interacting with high-definition holograms of the mine.”
Trimble currently is adapting its technology platforms for the newly released HoloLens, with mining and construction software expected to be some of the first releases. Launch dates are still not set.