OPTIMISING the operation of trucks on mine haulage routes in places as far-flung as the arctic circle is a pressing business need for the global mining industry facing rising cost pressures.
Fuel, maintenance and operational costs for mining haulage trucks can squeeze mining company profit margins and companies are looking for ways to control these unpredictable expenses.
Queensland-based mining consultancy, Smith Global, has developed a software solution aimed at addressing these haulage issues which can be critical at mine sites in remote locations with challenging weather conditions and difficult terrain.
Smith Global managing director, Kerren Smith, said its specialist haulage software, called Optimizer, can unlock savings for miners seeking to trim their haulage costs.
The software has delivered extensive savings in fuel, maintenance and time for its clients that include top tier mining companies.
“What we have as a value proposition, is that we are a design house, particularly focused around transport,” Mr Smith said.
The company’s clients are in the mine transport and haulage industries, and Smith Global is seeking to expand its product offering to the large mining company sector.
The Optimizer software is customised for each client and is capable of quickly analysing a miner’s haulage operations to highlight areas for efficiency improvements leading to greater productivity.
The package can provide what-if scenarios to allow the modelling of different haulage routes and comparison of different vehicle combinations.
There are three distinct phases to implementing a project using Optimizer: assess; analyse and outcomes.
The Optimizer process starts with defining project goals and the needs of a client including, auditing a trucking fleet’s performance and equipment used in the handling process to establish a baseline, before moving on to a comprehensive analysis of various haulage routes.
The second stage is to carry out a methodical comparison of potentially viable options collaboratively with client staff, from workshop personnel to senior managers.
When initial baseline performance data is gathered into the Optimizer system and client objectives set, an in-depth analysis can begin on evaluating different haulage options.
This next step involves using the software’s proprietary specialist tools to process data and produce findings within the scope of the client’s project requirements.
The third stage of the process is the evaluation of these haulage route options and findings to identify areas of cost savings and efficiency improvements such as clearing bottlenecks.
This final stage covers many different aspects, including, gradients, road surface conditions, speed restrictions, corner radii, and obstacles such as bridges.
In addition, the company’s self-designed software package, REVS, allows the input of data such as specific GPS coordinates to build up a simulation of haulage routes for individual mine sites.
REVS stands for Route, Environment and Vehicle Simulator and has been developed in-house by Smith Global.
The REVS software can calculate and compare laden and unladen trip times for trucks, and highlight the productivity of different haulage configurations such as powertrain, trailer type and payload.
Data output from the software can include detailed information on comparative fuel burn for different routes, brake usage, payload throughput, and information on stockpiling footprints for material.
All these outputs can be used by clients to increase their competitive advantage through innovative haulage route design that improves productivity and saves on costs.
The Optimizer process is key to the Smith Global Whole-of-Life cost modelling system, which allows clients to accurately assess the relative cost options for replacing or extending the life of mining equipment.
Mr Smith, who has 45 years’ mining industry experience, said the company take in relevant information, put it into its software package with the various haulage positions to be used, and then provide a full route outcome.
“For any position along a haulage route we can tell you exactly what gear you are in for what period of time and at what speed,” he said.
The technology found that the driving styles can vary considerably for different drivers on the same haulage route, revealing a human factor at play in haulage performance.
The software is particularly tailored towards evaluation of long-haul trucks rather than earth moving equipment.
Smith Global has expanded its business in the past 18-months with the intention of targeting the top tier of the global mining industry with its haulage software package and has already had some success in this new strategy.
The company has carried out significant feasibility studies for miners using its optimisation software, including studies into the expected lifespan of mining equipment, and maintenance reviews.
In one whole-of-mine life equipment case study, the consultancy studied data for 40,000 hours of equipment operations at a minesite to analyse costs and audit maintenance plans.
“Australia is a good place for mining companies to test their equipment because we have got arduous conditions with long distance, high temperatures, but we do have good regulation,” Mr Smith said.
For this reason, a lot of mining and transport companies visit Australia to test their equipment, as they can effectively drive long distances to get good baseline data for vehicle testing.
Among the company’s other work is holistic design and identifying process improvements, and also forensic type work such as identifying the reasons for equipment failures.
Overworked trucks operating on inefficient routes can result in higher maintenance bills and repair costs, not to mention increased driver fatigue that can become a health and safety issue.
Conversely, miners aware of these issues can occasionally go too far in the opposite direction by over-servicing their trucking fleets and taking trucks out of service for more times than is necessary.
The OPTIMIZER process is about using quality data evaluation to make optimum decisions.
Real world results
Smith Global has deployed its haulage software to remote mining sites such as an iron ore mine on Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic north, located 700km from north pole, involving a 100km haulage route for trucks.
In this project, Smith Global had to deal with difficult road conditions with the route affected by seasonal cold weather and road curvatures, gradients and surfaces that made it difficult to deliver consistent productivity.
The project with the Canada-based iron ore miner lasted for two years and covered an in-depth analysis of road conditions, time wastage and shift-work patterns.
“Over a two-year period we virtually doubled their productivity,” Mr Smith said.
“We went through a program of getting rid of corners and certain levels of the jump ups and what that did to traction,” he said.
The consultancy discovered through its data that trip times on the iron ore haulage route in Canada could vary considerably, which had to be factored into its findings.
By making incremental improvements to the haulage route and equipment the consultancy was able to increase speeds in certain stretches, trim journey times, avoid bottlenecks and increase productivity.
Time-modelling software provided by Smith Global can be used to predict cycle times for complex haulage routes resulting in recommendations to change the grade, layout and surface of roads.
Smith Global’s origins lie in building coal haulage equipment for Australian coal mines, and it became the largest supplier of oversize road transport equipment for use on coal mine haul routes.
Six years ago, the company identified an opportunity in the market to expand its consultancy business overseas in holistic design, and design analysis to overcome equipment failure.
This expertise has given the company a strong foundation on which to base its haulage software consultancy business.
“I think it is because we have a strong manufacturing background in bespoke equipment that means when we do productivity reviews, we can come up with potentially different styles of long-haul combinations that might not have been foreseen,” Mr Smith said.
A lot of the company’s consultancy review work is linked to its manufacturing expertise as it has specialist knowledge of the capabilities of transport equipment.
As a family-owned business with a 120-year history, Smith Global has worked in 21 countries and six continents across the mining and extractive industries, and other sectors such as the sugar industry.
“We have the knowledge and experience and tools we have developed over the years that have provided significant benefits to our clients,” Mr Smith said.
The company has extended its expertise to the diagnosis of problems with power equipment in underground mines.
Smith Global’s service also covers equipment risk assessment for transport and materials handling systems and for operational processes.
More information: Smith Global
Phone number: (07) 5482 1166 / +61 7 5482 1166
Email: Kerren Smith, managing director, email@example.com