Above ground, Caterpillar and Rio Tinto have signed an agreement for retrofitting 19 Cat 793F mining trucks for autonomous operation at the Marandoo iron ore mine in Western Australia. Caterpillar will also install Cat Command for hauling software for operation of the autonomous fleet. The result of the agreement will be the first fleet of Cat autonomous trucks deployed by Rio Tinto.
The first few trucks will be retrofitted in mid-2018, and the project will be completed by the end of 2019, Caterpillar reports.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to work with Rio Tinto in installing their first Cat autonomous haulage system,” said Jean Savage, Caterpillar vice president with responsibility for the surface mining & technology division. “Working with WesTrac, we look forward to helping Rio Tinto enhance operations with our proven mining technology.”
Then below ground, in Canada this time, a battery-electric Cat Load-Haul-Dump (LHD) loader has been put into live testing (pictured below).
Caterpillar’s underground mining group has shipped a proof of concept battery electric LHD to a mine site in Canada. The initial build and validation testing of this R1300G test unit began in early 2017 at the Caterpillar Peoria Proving Grounds and continues now, moving muck in a Canadian mine.
The test machine is a proof of concept for packaging and performance of a lithium based energy storage solution Caterpillar plans to bring to the LHD market. The manufacturer emphasises that the R1300G proof of concept does not represent a final design that will go to market. It’s an old machine that has been retrofitted, rather than a new design from scratch. But it is plenty good enough to prove the concept. After testing, Caterpillar will launch a full-fledged new product introduction program with “a more in-depth, rigorous design and validation process”, it says.
Jay Armburger, product manager with responsibility for underground technology, said: “Our customers are planning for deeper mines with very high ambient rock temperatures where ventilation costs are pivotal to making the mine viable. One means of reducing ventilation demand is through electrification of the mining equipment.”
Caterpillar already has more than 250 patents relating to electric drive and energy storage for products like the D7E dozer, F-Series asphalt pavers, 794 AC and 795F AC large mining trucks, the recently introduced 988K XE wheeled loader.
The R1300G program began with a full production study and data analysis of the diesel machine in order to set a baseline. Then the transformation of the R1300G to a battery electric proof of concept began. Modifications included removing the engine, transmission and torque converter, then reconfiguring the engine end-frame to accommodate the battery boxes and electric motors. The result is a battery-electric powertrain driving a conventional and mechanical drivetrain (drive shafts and axles).
The R1300G proof of concept is an older machine without the benefit of efficient electro-hydraulics. As a result, it will drive worst case scenario loads on the batteries. The less refined trial machine will yield solid understanding of heat generation and cooling needs, performance criteria, space claim and safety considerations in the day-to-day operation of the machine, Caterpillar says.
With the help of customers that have had a go on the proof of concept machine at the proving grounds, Caterpillar is getting feedback to help drive the program forward. Cat says customers seem unanimous in wanting a machine that is rechargeable. Recharging on the machine prevents the mine from incurring additional infrastructure costs or from having to manage or store replaceable battery packs. So Caterpillar is focusing on fast charging of the batteries on the machine such that an operator can take a quick break and come back to a charged machine. In addition to developing the LHD itself, the program has been prototyping a robust charging station. The technology behind the charging station is unique to Caterpillar and uses Cat components and technology, it says.
“We tried hard to break this machine and technology before sending it to Canada in September,” Jay Armburger said. “With the results we’ve seen so far, we’re confident this R1300G proof of concept is giving us the answers we need to develop a machine that is safe and lives up to the Cat brand promise of durability and reliability. In the end, Caterpillar is well positioned to develop an optimised machine – from power generation to tyre rotation.”