The story behind remarkable Fushan pictures

Top image :
EACON's Fushan quarry control centre
‘The mining sector is eager to attempt pioneering projects to set exemplary standards’

Many people have seen the remarkable videos showing EACON Mining Technology’s autonomous trucks performing precise, synchronised manoeuvres at one of China’s largest quarries. The story, as told here, of its ground-breaking deployment of 5G + green power + battery-electric trucks + autonomy, is equally captivating.

EACON, a global leader in mining autonomy and e-mobility, started its involvement at Honghe Baili’s Fushan quarry last November under a contract that encompassed 5G network, dispatch centre and other infrastructure construction with partners.

That work wrapped up in February this year and EACON started commissioning the first 20 autonomous trucks. By April the task was complete and the company removed its safety drivers and “normalised” auto-truck haulage at the busy quarry.

This two-month start-up window reflected the fact that Fushan was EACON’s first quarry project. It has commissioned larger autonomous haul truck fleets and taken out safety drivers in as little as two weeks.

At Fushan, EACON had also introduced the country’s largest battery-electric haul fleet. The 20 trucks have since logged more than 220,000km of haulage activity at the site. At an average 1 million tons a month, the new fleet has overshot quarry owner monthly material movement targets by more than 10%.

Safety, productivity and environmental boxes have been ticked.

“We deployed rapidly for two main reasons,” Jie Hui, EACON’s Product Lead, says.

“First, we had strong confidence in both our field-proven autonomous haulage system and our ability to implement EACON AHS in a quarry. Our AHS had already demonstrated its maturity and reliability in several major coal mines in China.

“Secondly, EACON’s AHS features a platformised design, making it simple to migrate the AHS system to various OEM truck models.

“EACON’s AHS can adapt to different scenarios. We can do the adaptation as well as customisation development for the quarry’s special scenarios that are different from coal mines, thus the operation can be deployed quickly.”

EACON’s Chief Operating Officer, Dr Elaine Jin, says competition is indeed “fierce in China”, but safe design and implementation of new technologies is a core tenet not only of government regulation aimed at fostering better productivity and environmental outcomes, but also of the supplier.

“EACON adheres to the principle of safety first,” she says.

“Rapid deployment came down to the product architecture and the rapid response capability of the engineering team.”

More broadly, economic, safety and policy factors are driving an autonomous-vehicle adoption push at mines and quarries in China.

Fushan is just one of many operations facing recruitment and labour, and rising energy cost pressures.

“Our autonomous battery-electric haul fleet have achieved 70% savings in energy costs compared to the traditional diesel trucks,” Hui says.

“The local government provides both policy and resources support to the quarry owner to build a benchmark project by adopting 5G, zero-emission and autonomous driving technology.”

Fushan’s traffic management is complicated by steep ramps, numerous road intersections, narrow roadways and areas allowing U-turns. Human observation lapses and fatigue, especially at night, are ever-present safety risks.

“EACON’s autonomous haul fleet features a multi-layer safety system and excellent capacity for both obstacle detection and intention sharing to prevent accidents from happening,” Jin says.

“As EACON’s first quarry project, Fushan presented initial difficulties for the project team, including complex operating conditions and GPS signal loss in the indoor crusher area.

“That is why the team expected a much longer time to achieve normalised high-productivity unmanned operation.

“Unlike some major coal mines in China where EACON deployed AHS previously, this quarry has smaller and very dynamic loading areas. Multiple excavators deployed at the same loading area and the busy and narrow crushers make the whole operation even more complex.

“To address the challenges EACON’s R&D team upgraded the AHS management system based on the quarry environment and optimised haulage capacity by dynamically dispatching trucks to various loading and dumping areas, ensuring safety and efficiency during rapid progress.

“To overcome GPS signal compromises when backing into the indoor crusher station, EACON utilises fusion localisation technology, V2X communication and path sharing with advanced algorithms for accurate and efficient truck manoeuvring.

“Our trucks feature LiDAR, radar, V2X and algorithms to identify obstacles including manned trucks. Autonomous trucks equipped with onboard decision-making capabilities can autonomously decide whether to brake and stop or pass, thereby reducing reliance on operational controllers and networks.

“EACON’s battery-electric haul fleet has been safely operated at Fushan for more than 200 days, with the safety improvement mainly attributable to the reduction of on-site personnel, enhanced environment perception capacity, and improved onboard decision-making ability.”

Fushan is a major aggregate quarry with material movement in the order of 18 million tons per annum. While the autonomous trucks can basically work around the clock, local regulations restrict operations to 16 hours a day. Demand and aggregate price pressures have also dampened output in 2023.

With approval for a new pit awaited, EACON’s focus is on improvement of the existing auto-fleet performance in the context of what remains a challenging environment.

“There are two aspects we are improving at the moment,” Hui says.

“We are working on simplifying our management system-operator interface to shorten the training and practicing time required for new operation controllers.

“We are also collaborating with the quarry owner to enhance the management of manned vehicles entering autonomous operation zones.

“Occasionally, external vehicles entering the site cause self-driving trucks to brake sharply, leading to safety risks and increased energy consumption.

“The other contractor trucks can’t share their location with our autonomous trucks and the control centre. To ensure safety, we have enhanced onboard perception and prediction abilities specific to the quarry scenarios. This project has improved our AHS and the improved technology based on it has been applied to other truck models and projects.

“Our operations team is also in talks with partners to effectively manage these manned vehicles. We have proposed the installation of Collaboration Systems on all manned vehicles as part of our effort to improve the whole operation.”

Jin says sales of pure electric mining trucks, generally with 60-70 tons payload rating, have been rising in China over the past four years.

“The inherent stability and maturity of the base truck have undergone extensive validation,” he says.

“The specific downhill work scenarios at Fushan are highly suitable for the efficient regenerative capability provided by battery-electric trucks. Under these conditions, the EY60 – an autonomous driving vehicle produced through collaboration between EACON and a leading vehicle manufacturer – only requires charging once a day.

“Emission reduction is also a significant driving factor.

“China has joined the Paris Agreement, committing to goals of emission reduction.

“All industries are striving in this direction, and the mining sector is eager to attempt pioneering projects to set exemplary standards.”

Hui sees the success to date at Fushan opening many new doors for EACON, starting with an even bigger quarry in south-west China, where the company is aiming to introduce an autonomous-electric truck fleet in 2024.

“The project will bring new challenges for EACON, notably due to the region’s frequent poor weather conditions,” he says.

“Fushan is located in northern China, where rainy and foggy days are rare, and during these days the quarry usually halts all operations.

“However, in south-west China, there are many such days throughout the year.

“Therefore, the quarry must operate continuously despite adverse weather. The frequent wet and slippery road surfaces, as well as high humidity and low visibility, pose challenges to the safety and reliability of vehicles, especially in obstacle recognition and vehicle control.

“We believe overcoming these challenges will pave the way for expanding our AHS into more quarries in China and the world.”


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