Mining annual cost savings estimator helps justify technology investment in automation

5 February 2014
An estimator from Autonomous Solutions Inc. (ASI) helps mining operators justify investment in autonomous mining technologies. How much sellable material are we extracting? How much ore is available to mine? What is the up-time of our equipment? How much material can one of our haul trucks carry? How many employees do we have? Mines need to attach a number to these and hundreds of other questions to help them determine if they are successful and if their current course will lead to more success.

Many of these questions are well-defined, but others are littered with variables. Technology acquisition is one of these difficult questions. Will this technology increase the revenue, safety, or efficiency of our operation? If so, by how much? Without taking on a huge risk to implement the technology, there are no clear answers.

In 2010, the management and technology consulting company, Accenture, undertook a research study directed at the emerging technology, mining vehicle automation. The report titled Using Autonomous Equipment to Achieve High Performance in the Mining Industry discusses Accenture’s research into mining automation and attempts to attach a number to the technology. The study shows that mining automation has an impressive potential to improve productivity, safety, and labour costs.

“Autonomous equipment should operate more predictably,” states the Accenture report. “With less direct operator control over [equipment], inherent operator-induced variations in speed, load and travel as well as downtime, should be dramatically reduced.” Accenture focuses on several significant productivity-related costs that mining automation could improve, including: vehicle maintenance, energy/fuel consumption, accidents, and vehicle utilization. Precise and predictable autonomous technology targets each of these areas to increase overall productivity of mine operations.

Aside from the number of mining-related injuries, attaching a number to the effect of mining automation technology on safety is challenging. “The use of autonomous equipment is expected to reduce safety-related events simply through the elimination or significant reduction in operator presence on equipment,” Accenture reports. “Common challenges such as operator fatigue or judgment errors that lead to accidents could cease to occur.” Reductions in safety violations through autonomous mining could save the mining industry millions of dollars in workman’s compensation claims, insurance premiums, equipment repair, and downtime, not to mention the irreplaceable loss of individual employees to injury or death.

One of the most difficult challenges faced by the mining industry is the rising cost of labour. This cost is driven by pressure for higher wages and an overall shortage of skilled labour. In addition, remote mining sites require significant infrastructure to support employees working onsite. “The rising cost of labor has improved the value proposition for autonomous equipment,” says Accenture. “If equipment fleets could become autonomous, it would substantially reduce the direct labour force and support staff.”

The mining annual cost savings estimator developed by Autonomous Solutions, is based on ratios identified by Accenture as well as more than ten years of mining automation experience. The equation targets several key areas that affect mine revenue—productivity, maintenance and support costs, equipment investments, and labor. As mine operators enter real, site-specific numbers, the calculator attaches a dollar amount to the value of vehicle automation.

Source: www.im-mining.com