“While the benefits of big data, and the Internet of Things will continue to grow and be delivered into the mining industry, it’s important to note the significant value from providing real-time, easy to use, actionable information to the people who have the greatest capability to act on it—the machine operators,” says Andrew Jessett, CEO and founder of MineWare.
MineWare has won multiple awards and has its flagship software products aiding performance and productivity improvement on more than 120 draglines and shovels around the world.
Jessett says material loading assets such as draglines, shovels and excavators start the material movement process and their performance heavily influences the success of downstream mining processes. Inefficiencies on the front end have dramatic repercussions to the overall value stream.
“As such, the loading equipment operator at the front end has significant influence on the overall cost of mining,” he says.
“It is often said that the most important person on a mine site with respect to productivity is not the mine manager, not the engineer, not the supervisor, but it is the humble machine operator. No one else on the mine site has such a direct and substantial influence on the productive capabilities of the shift.
“The real-time decisions every operator makes each minute of the day have significant implications to the bottom line of the mine site.
“And as autonomous haulage deployments become more commonplace, the variation in performance between operators on loading equipment will continue to significantly affect the success factor for the whole load-and-haul process.”
Three key dimensions
Jessett says “three key dimensions” to loader productivity under an operators’ control are payload compliance, mine plan compliance, and machine damage management. Providing accurate, real-time information and easy-to-use technology empowers operators to address all of the dimensions throughout each and every shift.
“Operator awareness in real-time generates tangible productivity gains,” Jessett says.
“Getting the operator actionable information in a timely fashion is the key to driving operator behaviour thus improving decision making. Production reports for the last month, the last week, the last shift, or even the last few hours provide dated information. If it’s not known now, it’s too late to be fixed later.”
Payload compliance involves both the rate and accuracy of the truck loading process.
According to Jessett, keeping operators informed in real time “tightens the bell curve” for truck payload distribution, which leads to an average increase and consistency in truck payload. Significant production and maintenance benefits are achieved by ensuring each and every truck is neither over nor under loaded.
“Traditional payload measurements on trucks offer minimal accuracy until the truck leaves the loading zone. Getting the information after the truck leaves provides little, if any value to loading equipment operators as they shift focus to the next truck,” Jessett says.
“Real-time payload information allows the operator to adjust the load while it still makes a difference, ensuring improvement in consistency. Providing real-time, accurate feedback, the operator can confidently adjust the critical last pass to ensure that each truck leaves with as close as possible to 100% of its nominal payload.
“The challenges involved in maintaining accurately calibrated truck weighing systems, particularly for large fleets, and the significant fluctuations in the accuracy of strut-based payload weight measurement systems as a truck is being loaded, means a loader-based system is the only way available to achieve the desired objective.”
Gaining and maintaining operator acceptance and involvement – creating the “need” to use a system such as MineWare’s loading-tool based payload management technology – is what Jessett sees as a third pillar of successful change management and vital to “sustainable success for any technology deployment”.
“Clear, timely and easy-to-interpret feedback influences operator behaviour,” he says.
MineWare systems that provide simple, clear feedback on the remaining payload to fill the truck currently being loaded deliver the core, primary mechanism through which payload optimisation is achieved. They inform operators of their overall loading performance throughout the shift to track improvements over time, and compare each operator’s loading performance to all other operators, by operator and by machine, to provide peer-based benchmarking and to identify those needing additional training.
On each in-cab display, a simple green fill-bar graphic provides the operators with all the information they need to control their truck payload. KPI bars along the bottom and side drives a ‘keep it in the green’ behaviour for increasing consistency and minimising variation between operators.
Jessett says the intuitive design has yielded documented improvements in average truck payloads of more than 5% at customer sites.
Mine plan compliance
Mine plan compliance – ensuring the material excavated and loaded matches the mine’s plan – requires that loading machine operators are provided with real-time, intuitive information that allows them to stay on track and avoid wasted effort and clean-up work.
“Intuitive real time displays help an operator avoid an issue before it has the chance to occur,” Jessett says. “All the effort in getting maximum productivity out of a loading unit is worthless is all they are doing is loading the incorrect material.”
And so another type of 3D is valuable.
MineWare provides operators with real-time, 3D, colour-coded feedback on where they are digging compared to where they are meant to dig. The critical information is available both on the loader in real-time, and back in an office where engineering and supervisory staff can quickly assess the progress of the excavation.
“Alternative technologies such as UAVs and terrestrial scanners can provide quality data for detecting mine plan deviations, but the real-time nature of generating profiles on the loader allows the operator to avoid such deviations before they occur,” Jessett says.
“With the easy to access 3-D displays, an operator and supervisor can quickly assess how well they are digging to plan.
“Now the operator is loading quickly, accurately, and is taking the right material. The next consideration is to minimise machine damage so as to maximise availability.
“Minimal benefit can be gained by increasing loading tool productivity if it results in increased maintenance costs and corresponding downtime. However, with the right monitoring system, loader productivity can be maximised without compromising the goal of minimising machine damage. Smooth, competent loader operation can and does outperform rough operation, which yields higher production rates and significantly less machine damage.”
Machine damage is invariably a function of equipment vibration. By analysing vibration and providing operators with key metrics, in real time, machine damage can be reduced.
“If one tries to break a piece of fencing wire by pulling on each end it will take considerable time and strength. However, if the same piece of fencing wire is bent back and forth the desired objective can be achieved with a lot less effort,” Jessett says.
“A loading machine is no different. Continual loading, unloading, and vibration take their toll on the machine and all its components. In fact, a doubling in machine load can equate to an up to eight-fold increase in damage done.”
MineWare systems are being used to record real-time strain gauge data on loading equipment and focus on the cumulative impact of load and vibration in measuring machine damage. Small reductions in vibration equate to significant savings in component life. Machine operator displays show the rate of damage to a machine, as they are operating, and contrasts that with the average levels for the machine.
Jessett says historical information demonstrates variations between operators are common.
“Minimising the variation in operator performance will improve overall machine availability.
“Involving the operators by keeping them informed, helps them evolve their loading techniques and attitudes to smooth the operation and increase overall productivity and minimises its effect on machine availability.”