End of era nigh for ‘closed stack’ mining tech, conference hears


Richard Roberts

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Wenco's Glen Trainor speakers at The Electric Mine 2024
'OEM autonomy systems are moving away from integration standards'

Wenco International Mining Systems commercial vice-president Glen Trainor has flagged the end of the “closed stack” era for mine fleet management and autonomous technology platforms, telling The Electric Mine 2024 a new wave of competition and innovation can only benefit the industry.

Trainor said mining’s increasing challenges with falling ore grades, deeper operations, longer ore and waste haulage routes and rising energy consumption were well documented.

Integrated “open” autonomy and electrification shaped as a significant part of the response to the challenges.

“Open autonomy will allow the mining companies to maintain mixed fleets [of equipment],” Trainor told the conference in Perth, Western Australia.

“Enter smaller electric trucks into this scenario and now you have some innovation in the industry in terms of the potential for swarm mining.

“Smaller digger units to load smaller trucks – that allows more selective mining.

“And what it will eventually do is allow us that potential to access previously uneconomic deposits.”

Trainor said 35-year-old Wenco, owned by Japan’s Hitachi Construction Machinery, led a move from proprietary to open FMS databases two decades ago. It wasn’t a popular move among FMS suppliers then and that “parallels the situation with OEM autonomous solutions today”.

“The mining industry has been moving more towards open standards and published standards,” he said.

“But unfortunately the OEM autonomy systems are moving away from integration standards.

“You are required to purchase that OEM truck, then you’re required to purchase that OEM’s autonomy system, then you’re required to purchase that OEM’s fleet management system.

“That eliminates the ability for the mining company to select best of breed.

“They can’t select the FMS system they want. They can’t keep their mixed fleets.

“We term this the closed stack.

“We are part of Hitachi Construction Machinery. And we’re proud to be part of that autonomous solution. It’s a good solution. I’m not saying that OEM autonomous solutions are bad. They’ve proven themselves. They’re effective. They work. But what I’m saying is that they may not meet all of the challenges within the industry today.”

Trainor said the industry’s ISO 23725 autonomous system and fleet management system interoperability standard opened the door to seamless integration of existing and new technologies, and for new players to come in and innovate in the mining arena.

“Open, published standards that allow any vehicle autonomous system to talk to any fleet management system will invite competition. Competition is healthy for the industry,” he said.

“It will invite competition for autonomous systems from other industries into our industry; [competition] from other autonomous technology providers who may not own trucks, or who may not own fleet management systems [FMS]. They can now come into the mining industry and help the autonomy program.”

Trainor cited a long list of technology firms developing autonomous systems for on and offroad vehicles.

Not all would come into mining, but a number of new brands were already active in the market.

“On our side we’re working with the dispatch algorithms to ensure that the FMS can handle hundreds upon hundreds of trucks in a swarm,” Trainor said.

“We heard from Freeport McMoRan [at the conference] that they already have 140 large trucks out there. With these smaller trucks we’re going to get to 200 or 300 vehicles.”

Asked if mining customers were actively looking to transition to autonomy and BE simultaneously, Trainor said: “I think what we’re seeing now is the preparation for it.

“They don’t want to commit to anything right now that’s going to lock them into a certain path.

“Having open autonomy available now means they have pieces in place that are dynamic and that can evolve.

“I think that’s where the open standard gives that flexibility and comfort; where you are not being locked into a solution at the moment.”

 

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