Hitachi Construction Machinery announced that the company will begin verification tests at an Australian mine from FY 2021 directed at the development of autonomous ultra-large hydraulic excavators for the purpose of improving future mining site safety and productivity.
The remote-controlled ultra-large hydraulic excavator will be developed in order to improve the working environment and ensure the safety of operators. This excavator will be equipped with operator support systems, such as a collision-avoidance system with other mining equipment, to ensure the same level of operability as with the operator on board the machinery. Following the initial development, some parts of the excavation and loading operation will be automated to allow a single remote operator to operate multiple ultra-large hydraulic excavators. The incremental development will eventually realize the ultra-large hydraulic excavators with autonomous operation features.
The remote control system, driving support system for manned excavator, and autonomous operation features are all retrofittable onto the EX-7 series of ultra-large hydraulic excavators, to enable mining site customers to utilize the equipment that they currently operate while supporting autonomous operation at mining sites in the future.
Mining resources including iron ore and copper sustain the activities of global industries, and the sites which mine these resources are required to operate in a stable manner 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
In contrast, the operators of ultra-large hydraulic excavators are required to repeatedly perform complex operations for a long period of time while paying attention to avoid collision with surrounding equipment and the stability of the vehicle, in order to excavate and load mining resources in an efficient manner. Because the safety and productivity of ultra-large hydraulic excavator operation largely depend on the operator’s skill and experience, building a production system that does not depend on the operator’s skill and reducing the operator’s workload are important issues at mining sites.
The Hitachi Construction Machinery Group has regarded the high reliability and durability of its ultra-large hydraulic excavators as an advantage since it entered the mining machinery business in the late 1970s. At the same time, the company used a remote-controlled unmanned excavator to advance the development of technologies in the reconstruction work at Mount Unzen Fugen-dake volcanic eruption in 1992. In 2013, they led the industry by advancing the development of technologies for long-distance remote control by remotely operating a hydraulic excavator located in the Urahoro test site, Hokkaido over an Internet connection from approximately 800 km away in Tsuchiura City, Ibaraki Prefecture. Now, they have decided to begin verification tests at an actual mining site to advance the development of autonomous driving for ultra-large hydraulic excavators, reflecting the needs of customers.
Autonomous operation for ultra-large hydraulic excavators can be deployed as a stand-alone system or as a part of the fleet management system (FMS), such as the Fleet Control from Wenco International Mining Systems Ltd., their subsidiary which has a substantial implementation track record at large-scale mines. Their goal is to balance a high degree of safety and productivity by having autonomous operation through sharing the information among the autonomous ultra-large hydraulic excavators, dump trucks, and other equipment.
Operation support system
Because it is difficult to assess the conditions around the vehicle and the inclination of the vehicle during remote control compared to operation with the operator on board the equipment, the actual machinery will be equipped with a collision-avoidance system and a vehicle stability monitoring system to reduce the burden on the operator performing the remote control during the verification tests. In addition, Wenco has been advancing the development of an excavator payload monitoring system which measures the weight of the material inside the bucket and plans to test this feature at the same time. Reflecting the needs of actual customers through verification testing will further improve remote control and driving support technologies in ultra-large hydraulic excavators. These operator support systems can be retrofitted onto the EX-7 series of ultra-large hydraulic excavators and are scheduled to be ready for the market during FY 2022 as systems installed on actual machinery to increase operation safety.
Integration with the dump truck Autonomous Haulage System (AHS)
Hitachi Construction Machinery began researching AHS in 2009; now, six rigid dump trucks are starting 24-hour autonomous hauling at Whitehaven’s coal mine in Maules Creek (Australia).
Because a diverse and large quantity of manned and unmanned machinery mix together in a large-scale mining operation, the radio communication needed for the operating control must be managed in a stable manner.
The AHS from Hitachi Construction Machinery runs on the Wenco FMS and utilizes various technologies from the Hitachi Group to realize a significant advantage by extending its range of control up to a maximum of 100 vehicles.
The goal of autonomous ultra-large hydraulic excavators is to balance a high level of safety and productivity, even in the autonomous mining sites of the future, by sharing information with dump trucks and other machinery.
The Hitachi Construction Machinery Group has thus far been engaged in realizing “Reliable Solutions” to solve social issues as a close and reliable partner for our customers. Going forward, we will continue to promote the development of long-distance remote control and autonomous driving, ultra-large hydraulic excavators using ICT and IoT for mining industry customers around the world to help provide a higher level of safety and mine management productivity improvements that our customers require.