Ferrexpo’s truck automation program started with a single Cat 793D and will likely expand to the rest of its fleet.

ASI Mining, a subsidiary of Autonomous Solutions Inc. (ASI), has started work on a project in Ukraine to retrofit and automate a fleet of 15 haul trucks at the Ferrexpo Yeristovo mine (FYM).

“This project is one of the first major autonomous haulage deployments in eastern Europe. It represents a major milestone for the accessibility of automation at sites across the world,” said Patrick Hald, general manager, ASI Mining. “Autonomous mining is no longer a luxury available only to the largest mines.”

FYM and ASI Mining successfully completed an initial test on October 21 by converting and autonomously operating a Caterpillar 793D haul truck. Ferrexpo plans to expand autonomous operations to a total of 15 trucks within the next two project phases, subject to market conditions and cash flows.

By employing ASI’s Mobius software at FYM, Ferrexpo anticipates improvements in utilization, along with increased productivity gains. FYM expects the autonomous mining fleet to deliver significant safety benefits to employees, particularly by eliminating fatigue-induced accidents. The safety benefits will also be complemented by expected improvements in productivity and better control over the quality of the company’s ore mix.

ASI’s Mobius Haulage A.I. will be a key component in the implementation and operation of the project. According to ASI, Mobius leverages advanced multi-vehicle command and control software to set up and manage a coordinated system of haul trucks. The Mobius Haulage Platform manages autonomous traffic, coordinates manned or unmanned vehicles, and regulates the haul cycle in the most efficient way possible, according to the company.

Ferrexpo is a Swiss-headquartered iron ore company.

Survey Highlights Top Mine Productivity Investments

The drive to improve productivity, efficiency and safety is leading to rising investment by mining companies, large and small, in a wide range of technologies. Already the extent of mines having invested in mine planning and management software is high, but rising levels of investment are particularly evident in mine communication systems and drones, according to GlobalData, a data and analytics company.

The company’s latest report, Global Mine-Site Technology Adoption Survey 2019, indicates that 61% of mine sites have invested significantly in fully implemented mine communication systems, such as private LTE networks or 5G (55% in 2018), while 56% of mines have invested to some extent in drones compared with 44% in 2018. Furthermore, 47% of mine sites surveyed intend to invest with-in the next two years — either for the first time or in addition to existing investments — in mine communication systems, while 41% intend to invest in drones.

David Kurtz, director of analysis–mining and construction at Global-Data, said, “Further investment in communication systems is critical for mines looking to extend levels of automation or deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. This is driving the rising use of private LTE networks and 5G use within the mining sector as it seeks continued improvements in productivity through higher utilization.”

While the majors have led the way toward investment in communication systems, small and midtier miners are now joining suit. Similar shares of both groups have made considerable investments or fully implemented communication systems, while 53% of smaller miners are expecting to make investments in this area over the next two years — the highest share of any of the technologies investigated.

Drones were used less widely, but uptake is growing rapidly. Some 21% of mine sites surveyed at the end of 2019 had fully invested in drones, compared with just 9% in 2018, and 45% of majors and 41% of non-majors expect to invest in drones in the next two years.

According to Kurtz, “Investment in drones is not expensive, but the payback in terms of cost savings, faster decision-making and improved productivity means it is not surprising to see such a rapid increase in levels of investing.”