Fleet management systems are increasingly helping operators to achieve their overarching corporate commitments. (Photo: Hexagon)

E&MJ presents new developments in fleet management systems for open-pit mining operations

By Carly Leonida, European Editor

Behind every modern open-cut mining operation is a fleet management system (FMS). Once the preserve of dispatching, today, these software platforms do much more, overseeing the efficiency and safety of every person and piece of equipment in the pit while simultaneously optimizing their movements and interactions.

While the benefits of deploying a FMS, at an operational level, are undeniable, these systems are increasingly helping mining companies towards their larger corporate commitments, and many of the features and partnerships announced by technology providers over the past year reflect this.

“The mining industry is increasingly adopting digital technologies to improve efficiency, safety, and productivity,” said Shyamal Sharma, managing director of Haultrax, an Australia-based mining fleet technology and consultancy provider. “Today, FMS are designed to seamlessly integrate with IoT devices and sensors deployed across mining operations, allowing for real-time data collection and analysis. This facilitates more efficient production, autonomy and degree of predictive maintenance.”

There’s also a growing emphasis on sustainability, with stakeholders pushing mine operators to adopt more environmentally friendly practices. FMS can support these goals by optimizing fuel consumption, reducing emissions, and enhancing energy efficiency.

“These systems help in planning and executing operations that minimize environmental impacts,” Sharma told E&MJ. “Safety is another paramount concern. Modern FMS integrate with advanced safety systems, such as collision avoidance systems, fatigue monitoring, and proximity detection, to protect workers.”

For example, fatigue monitoring can help to identify patterns of behavior in operators that may indicate a driver is fatigued or not adhering to safety procedures. This data can then be used to improve training, better manage shift patterns and ultimately reduce the number of accidents.

The use of big data analytics and machine learning algorithms is also becoming more prevalent in FMS design. These technologies process vast amounts of data generated by mining operations to uncover insights that can lead to operational improvements, predictive maintenance, and strategic planning.

Sharma added: “Other benefits of a FMS include a reduction in human errors: a FMS automates manual tasks, such as data entry, report generation and communication. This reduces the reliance on manual processes that are prone to errors, ensuring accurate and consistent data management throughout the mining operation.”

With today’s real-time monitoring capabilities, FMS provide operators and managers with up-to-date, accurate information on vehicle location, performance, and status. And the sum of all of these benefits are reductions in operating expenditure which contribute directly to the operator’s bottom line.

“By optimizing fleet operations, minimizing downtime, and reducing maintenance and fuel costs, a FMS helps mining companies to achieve significant cost reductions, leading to improved profitability,” said Sharma. “An increase in labour productivity and machine efficiency means that FMS can also help mines to run more efficiently. The data collected by the system can be used to improve the flow of traffic, reduce congestion and improve fleet management. Having a deeper understanding of how vehicles are being used can also assist with eliminating inefficient processes and identifying misuse of property.”

Haultrax: Making FMS Available for All

Haultrax’s FMS includes the FleetOps module, a solution which uses GPS tracking and intelligent algorithms to compile operational data to enable miners to measure, report and improve on key metrics. The FleetControl module is a dispatching tool which can be layered with this. It compounds the value of Fleet-
Ops by allowing the user to act on their data, manage mine plan execution and time, material, and activity tracking.

The solution is a lightweight system that currently only requires an interface for equipment operators. Sharma said a key differentiator for the company is making its FMS affordable for mining companies of all types and sizes.

“The software-as-a-service (SaaS) model cuts out the requirement for expensive and complex IT infrastructure onsite, and FleetControl and FleetOps modules have built-in store and forward capabilities, which remove the need for expensive wireless connectivity,” he told E&MJ. “Our team members all come from a mining operational background. We understand the mining business, operations, its people, and processes and we’re using that to implement technology that delivers value for end users. Our apps are designed around the front-line users, supervisors, operators and dispatchers, and our FMS is built with today’s technology.”

The systems are designed with simplicity and usability in mind. Sharma said it takes only 15 minutes to train any user to operate the app, and reports can be viewed on a phone, tablet, or computer. FleetOps also leverages automation, requiring no operator input and frees up employees for other activities. He added that Haultrax’s ability to swiftly customize the solution allows the FMS to fit each operation, rather than the operation having to change its ways of working to fit the FMS.

“New functionality can be added flexibly and quickly,” said Sharma. “In the past 18 months, we have been working a lot to add new tailored features for our customers.”

Alcoa’s Willowdale site, located near Waroona in Australia, was Haultrax’s first reference for the FleetOps reporting system, and the full FleetControl FMS has now been successfully rolled out across the site. Prior to this, the mine relied on manual management processes which provided little visibility of team members and assets. Data availability was slow and limited, making it difficult to visualize production rates from a short-interval perspective. For planning and budgeting, inaccurate or deficient data meant that assumptions had to be made and costs would often be over or underestimated.

With the FleetOps deployment, Alcoa has been able to achieve accurate mine plan management and real time productivity accounting, while FleetControl adds value through analysis of production data and insights as to why targets are or aren’t being met.

Change management was an important part of the implementation process, hence the staggered approach to the technology deployment. This allowed the Willowdale team to adjust to the new system and address any challenges before the next level of technology was introduced. Haultrax said the result is that Alcoa has seen benefits in transparency, efficiency and accountability through time, material and activity tracking as well as digital pre-starts for equipment.

The team at Australian mining contractor, MacKellar, review data from Haultrax’s FleetControl solution. (Photo: Haultrax)

Hexagon’s Latest OP Pro Release

The latest version of Hexagon’s OP Pro FMS was released late in 2023 and included support for the Hexagon 64-bit onboard platform. This enables end-to-end integration between OP Pro and other Hexagon products. Some key functionality differentiators include real-time truck positioning: OP Pro uses onboard algorithms to determine a truck’s GPS position and updates it every second rather than updating the position based on beacon logic.

David Prior, customer success manager for Hexagon’s Mining division explained: “This accurate positioning provides better production optimization and more timely misrouting alerts. It’s also a key reason why OP Pro’s production activity capture is so accurate.”

OP Pro can also calculate the optimal haul route for each truck, and this route is displayed in the operator’s cabin as a line for them to follow. Peer-to-peer communication is another boon. OP Pro trucks and loading units establish a dedicated, direct line of communication when in proximity to each other, which ensures that the mining activities are recorded accurately but also provides the shovel operator with fast updates on truck payload during loading.

“OP Pro supports the Hexagon 64-bit onboard platform, which is shared by other Hexagon products,” Prior told E&MJ. “On a hardware level, this means OP Pro is capable of sharing components with/of other Hexagon systems onboard the machine, making maintenance and stores management simpler. The integration with other Hexagon solutions such as MinePlan for short-interval control reporting; drill and blast solutions for automating production cycles; and safety solutions such as our collision avoidance system and vehicle intervention system, allows for a true life-of-mine deployment.”

Prior agreed that digitalization and connectivity, systems integration, and advanced data analytics are key drivers in FMS development currently.

“In today’s digital era, mining operations are increasingly adopting digital technologies,” he said. “FMS solutions leverage real-time data from connected vehicles, sensors, and equipment to optimize fleet performance. Cloud-hosted and serverless deployments are revolutionizing FMS, liberating operators from traditional, cumbersome systems.

“Systems integration has been a trend for some time now, as mine operators seek to not only reduce hardware clutter in their mining equipment but also leverage the huge potential of advanced data analytics. Truly integrated systems will produce vast amounts of data related to vehicle utilization, maintenance costs, driver behavior, and fuel consumption.”

Hexagon updated its OP Pro FMS in 2023 with support for the Hexagon 64-bit onboard platform. This allows integration with other Hexagon solutions. (Image: Hexagon)

Bingham Canyon Selects Cat MineStar

Caterpillar and Wheeler Machinery recently completed the installation of a Cat MineStar FMS at the Kennecott Bingham Canyon mine in Utah, USA. Rather than upgrading the mine’s previous FMS, Kennecott chose to replace it with MineStar Fleet. Even though this wasn’t the easiest route for the mine, the cost-benefit analysis showed significant benefits long-term using MineStar Fleet, including seamless integration with the MineStar Terrain solution which is currently used by the mine.

The companies said the implementation has optimized the site’s equipment tracking, production recording, material management and truck assignment, and has further expanded the technology relationship between Caterpillar and Rio Tinto.

Ryan Howell, mining technology commercial product manager at Caterpillar, spoke to this: “For 15 years, Rio Tinto has used MineStar Terrain and has expanded its MineStar capabilities in recent years at locations like Gudai Darri and Marandoo – autonomous mine sites in Western Australia,” he said. “Bingham Canyon is the first Mine-Star Fleet site in Rio Tinto history, and this extends the company’s application of MineStar capabilities.”

An incremental approach was devised to minimize the system installation loss-time impact on mining operations for bringing nearly 100 trucks, plus more than 40 supporting dozers, shovels and drills online with MineStar Fleet. Caterpillar and Wheeler worked together to provide a quick turn-around time with best-in-class implementation.

“We have been impressed with the partnership, and we share the same vision and have the correct team to get us there,” said Bryce Olson, mine monitoring and control superintendent at Bingham Canyon. “We immediately started using MineStar Fleet’s open assignment, load-haul-dump and auto fuel advanced features.”

Cat MineStar Fleet automatically records and tracks data up and down a mine’s value chain, providing insights that help miners identify what is working and fix what is not to meet production targets. Fleet allows miners to view the entire operation at a glance on a computer and gain insights into key cost drivers, such as fuel, tires, service parts, and idle time, as well as improve haul fleet production and shovel utilization.

Komatsu Acquires iVolve

At the other end of the operational scale, Komatsu bolstered its fleet management offering for small to mid-tier mining operations in December 2023 with the acquisition of Australian tech firm, iVolve Holdings Pty Ltd. iVolve provides FMS which compliment Komatsu’s existing suite of technologies, including Modular for mining. The companies have previously partnered on iVolve’s Smart Quarry Site offering and will expand on this with iVolve as part of Komatsu’s global business.

“iVolve have been great collaborators and this acquisition offers exciting potential to further our work together,” said Mike Gidaspow, VP, products, service and solutions for Komatsu North America.

Komatsu plans to globally deploy iVolve’s FMS to further contribute to improving safety and productivity at customers’ workplaces. It has so far been deployed at customer sites in Australia and North America.

“We have enjoyed a long working relationship with Komatsu and believe this agreement aligns with our goals and vision, and importantly, the resources of Komatsu will help us achieve our growth goals,” said Kim Parascos, CEO and co-founder of iVolve. “As a Komatsu brand, we aim to widen our market presence, elevate our product line and preserve flexibility for our customers. Our existing customers will also benefit from this new alignment, as we leverage the expertise, commitment and reach of Komatsu to improve our offering.”

Upon completion of the acquisition, iVolve will continue to provide its services as an independent group company while furthering development of its products and solutions.

Haultrax uses a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model for its FMS which cuts out the requirement for expensive and complex IT infrastructure onsite. (Photo: Haultrax)

GroundHog Upgrades Telemetry

Australia-based mine digitization and automation provider, GroundHog, recently upgraded its telemetry system to collect and report comprehensive payload data seamlessly via its Onboard Telematics module. The in-house engineered hardware solution links to both the onboard and live telemetry diagnostics ports on trucks, including the onboard computer systems. The data seamlessly transmits into GroundHog’s FMS and subsequently, GroundHog OpsCenter processes and presents it in a user-friendly format.

GroundHog’s previous generation Telemetry solution already captured engine hours, data from temperature and pressure sensors, and fault codes. With this new addition, the dataset now will comprise all critical information, such as payload, road conditions, event data, fuel and usage.

“Telemetry data plays an important role in the mining industry, primarily focusing on payload information that enhances operational efficiency, performance, and cost-effectiveness,” said Todd Pearce, managing director for Australia at GroundHog. “Leveraging this data not only allows for real-time payload monitoring but also provides the ability to do in-depth analyses, encompassing historical payload trends, assessments of actual versus expected, and other performance metrics.”

This integration of GroundHog’s software capability extends to machines from industry leaders including Komatsu, Caterpillar, Liebherr and Hitachi, and when integrated and leveraged with a Wi-Fi network, the results can be seen in real-time. Users can activate the functionality by acquiring a dedicated hardware unit that establishes a direct connection between the machine and the cloud. GroundHog said that this feature significantly reduces the potential for human error, as data can be obtained directly without manual input from operators.