Fleet-footed (an article in Mining Magazine March 2014)

21 April 2014

A good fleet-management system is an essential part of modern mining operations. Ailbhe Goodbody explores the current market and trends, and speaks to some of the main providers.

One of the biggest investments for mining operations is the costs of their fleet of equipment. Even for small to middle-sized open-pit mines, the value of this asset runs into many tens of millions of dollars.

For a relatively small investment of 1-2% of the asset value, a mine can acquire a fleet-management system (FMS), which will provide the means to extract the maximum value from that equipment fleet. «Given today's technology and the value it provides, it would be difficult for any mine owner or operator to make a case why their current and future mining operations would not use a proven, reliable, comprehensive and high-quality FMS».

«Fleet management provides transparency and understanding as to where the business's costs and time are being spent , which in turn provides management with the information to make more informed and accurate decisions to action change and lower the cost of ore produced to a more consistent and sustainable level. Its ultimate purpose is to help reduce the cost per tonne and increase the mine's profitability and efficiency through removing waste from the mining value chain».

For a mineral-extraction operation, it is important to get productivity, ore-grade and fleet-status information, among other variables, as quickly and accurately as possible. This is only possible using a FMS, where the information arrives in real-time with accurate data.

«Without the use of a FMS, the mine management would work only with data provided at the end of the shift, and the calculation of production, productivity and fleet efficiency is fully realised only after the end of the extraction period, precluding any clear decision making during the process».

FMSs have become an indispensable tool for virtually all open-pit and underground mines. Fleet-management technology has become so ingrained that very few greenfield operations start up without implementing a FMS solution. No longer limited to optimising haulage and other operational functions today's FMSs also address the areas of situational awareness, equipment health monitoring, real-time correction of operator behaviour, and fatigue management and safety.

The optimization and automatic dispatching of dump trucks, shovels and other mining equipment can result in 10-15% increase in equipment performance; payload optimisation results in around 8-10% increase in load volume/mass per kilometre; and the reduction in unplanned downtime and delays can create a 4-5% increase in equipment availability.

There are three aspects to FMSs that can increase efficiency and productivity at a mining operation: equipment assignment and optimisation, production monitoring and position monitoring.

The ability to schedule assignments of different types of equipment from a central control room contributes to minimising machine wait time and optimises equipment usage. A FMS can provide a plan or a schedule to each individual piece of equipment, and then record the actual production of the equipment against the plan.

The second crucial element, production monitoring, is the possibility to review information related to cycle times, loading performance and payload indicators, among other parameters.

Fleet management provides visibility of such data in real-time, which can be tracked by individual machines or operators, groups of machines, specific sites or an entire fleet – enabling miners to make timely changes to improve performance and increase payload predictability.

«The system has a much deeper and more comprehensive understanding of all the complex variables that impact the efficiency of the operation. The system can instantly make a well-informed decisions as variables and conditions change – far more effectively than any human».

The third key component is position monitoring. «Helping to ensure that the machines are in the correct location, and that the type of material they are excavating is accurate, will boost overall productivity in addition to alerting situations were to occur».

The benefits of an FMS are realised immediately; offering improvements across shift boundaries to create consistent performance and outcomes from varying crew capabilities. «The common adage of 'you cannot manage what you don't measure' certainly identifies a key benefit of FMS».

CURRENT MARKET

Periodic downturns in commodity prices generally have a constructive impact on capital expenditure by mining companies, and these downturns heavily affect the purchasing timetable for new mining equipment.

«The recent downturns that has affected the mining industry worldwide has inevitably had a negative impact on the demand for FMSs. Decision makers are reluctant to spend money on such systems that are considered expensive».

However, others say that low commodity prices can have a much less severe impact on the demand for, and in many cases the implementation timing of, enhancing technologies such as FMSs.

Mining companies in general are recognizing that they will have to embrace technology to ensure that they stay relevant and competitive. «Mining companies will have to lose the rigid business models and practices of old and become flexible enterprises poised to pounce on opportunity by utilizing technology and harnessing its ability to create wealth, streamline processes and control loss».

«During this difficult economic period, mining companies can no longer rely on increasing commodity prices to cover fleet inefficiency. There is an increase in companies looking to reduce their operating costs to maintain margins». Current economic climate is driving customers to achieve maximum efficiency and productivity out of their existing assets.

TRENDS

Some of the current trends in FMS deployment and development are being directed by regulatory changes, or by companies becoming more focused on cost reduction and preparing for an upturn in the market.

Equipment design has an obvious effect on fleet management and most machines are slowly progressing from manual to semi- or fully autonomous operation.

«We believe that the future of technology in mining lies in the use of automation. Managing the mine nowdays should no longer limit itself to managing its fleet. We are now in an era where automation control systems similar to those used in processing plants can be replicated in the mining environment, and going a step further by using such systems will create more value than ever before.»

«The challenge to any FMS supplier to the mining sector would be to add value in such a way that the mining environment sees the benefits of having systems installed on all assets across the board».

A lot of experts suggest that there will be a shift to a more service- and solution- based model than a product-based one. «This enables leveraging these systems as an operating expense as opposed to a capital expense».

Fleet management will also need to respond to environmental legislation dictating a reduction in emissions similar to the commercial vehicle world. This will increase capital costs but reduce the running costs through improved fuel-consumtion rates.

«We expect to see equipment and vehicles managed as part of the total production process, where they are tracked and monitored in real-time to quickly improve performance and drive down costs. Through this equipment will only be used as part of “just in time” production process, which is likely to be a 24h operation».

There is a growing demand for instantaneous information distribution and a trend towards the consolidation of IT infrastructure. In response, many mines have decided to move key fleet- management functions away from the mines and into remote operation centres.

One example is a coal corporation in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, US, that consolidated its rural site operations to the comfort of an office building in the city of Gilette. Another company, a large mining corporation in Australia, consolidated the operation of its mines in the Pilbara iron region into an integrated, remote command centre nearly 1,500km away in Perth.

Another key trend is the transition from disparate systems to fully integrated solutions that encompass real-time mine operations, engineering, maintenance and enterprise resource planning (ERP) functionality. Integration of safety platforms into the FMS is especially desirable, as regulatory agencies, mine management and mining operations strive for a zero-incedent workplace. Live sensing assets equipped with location-tracking devices, video cameras and pressure sensors will prevent operators from using machines in an unsafe manner.

VIST Group

VIST Group's VG KARIER FMS (fleet-management system) has modules that include automatic optimisation and dispatching, remote diagnostics, tyre management, security management, maintenance and repair, planning, automatic road-quality monitoring and full-cycle fuel monitoring.

The system had a broad functionality and is particularly adapted to emerging markets. Brian Marks, president of BV International, an autorized distributor of VIST Group products, comments that the cost of implementation and maintenance of VG KARIER system is, on average, about 1.5 times lower than competitors' systems.

Most data in VG KARIER system is availible via web interface, including reports, on-line monitoring and admin tools. The web interface extends the number of users and provides remote access from any part of the world.

The VG KARIER software is engineered using the Oracle database as the main component of real-time management and optimisation and also used for reporting. A large quantity of raw data can be used to create real-time reports, such as fleet work diagrams, remote vehicle-health montoring and a history of vehicle movements going back one year.

On-board equipment and software provides 100% data transmission to the server. Each on-board computer collects date from thee multiple sensors, stores it and instantly sends data to the server using the wireless system. If there is no Wi-Fi coverage, collected data is stored in the memory of the device and is transmitted to the server as soon as Wi-Fi is availible.

The optimisation module of VG KARIER ensures the enhancement of performance by accurate estimation of the required number of vehicles and directing them to the proper positions at the proper times. This enables management and control actions that result in significant performance enhancement as compared with a manual system wthout intelligent computer-based algorithmic optimisation.

The VG KARIER also provides "end to end" fuel logging, including logging of fuel in immobile storage tanks, loading and monitoring and control of fuel consumption by transport vehicles.

VIST Group systems can be integrated with other software such as Caterpillar's VIMS and Komatsu's TPMS, At the databese level, VIST Group systems can be integrated with software such as GEOVIA Surpac, Datamine, MICROMINE Micromine and Ventyx MineScape, as well as production management systems such as SAP.

A new version of VIST Group's FMS will be released in 2014. It features intelligent updated modules of automatic dispatch with a number of criteria for optimisation, drill management, mineral-quality control and road-quality control. An intelligent Mine System software module for autonomous dump trucks will also be released this year.

Source: Mining Magazine