Canadian Mining Journal


Caterpillar aims to please

The Cat 798 AC mining truck. CREDIT: CATERPILLAR

Caterpillar’s mining team had a lot to talk about at its recent annual press event in Tucson, which CMJ attended in November. In October and November alone, the company introduced two new electric drive ultra-class trucks, a new drill capable of drilling at a negative angle, a new large dozer that meets Tier 4 emission standards and a new underground LHD.

But the common theme of the two-day event, held at the company’s Tinaja Hills Demonstration and Training Center in November, was simply that it’s listening to its customers.

From the introduction of new electric drive trucks to modular equipment designs that make maintenance easier and less expensive, and improvements in its machines that decrease the total cost of ownership (TCO), the Caterpillar team repeatedly stressed how it was delivering what customers had asked for.

Mining trucks

A big focus of the program was the launch of its next generation large mining trucks.

The line now includes eight trucks, including two new ultra-class electric drive trucks – the 798 AC (372-tonne payload) and the 796 AC (325-tonne payload).

CAT’s large mining trucks are known for their durability and robustness, said global product manager Sudhanshu Singh, noting that the first CAT 793, (227-tonne payload) truck it produced is still being used a mine in Arizona and has now been operating up to 170,000 hours. Some customers rebuild CAT trucks with the intention of getting up to 300,000 hours out of them.

One of the big differences between CAT and its competitors is the superior system integration in its large mining trucks, Singh noted. Its 795F AC, for example, is the first single sourced electric drive mining truck.

Jeff Castleman, product development manager for large trucks, noted that the company’s “secret sauce” to its electric drive trucks is the “deep vertical integration” that leads to a lower cost per tonne.

Singh noted that this integration means that the software that runs different parts – the engine and the electric drive, for example – can communicate better, making optimization easier.

The 798 AC and 796 AC will be available starting in the second quarter of 2019, with a Tier 4 variety of both to follow soon after.

While mechanical drive is more efficient than electric drive, Castleman said there’s a debate at higher payloads which has a lower cost of ownership. CAT’s response is to offer both to customers, who had been asking for more electric drive options, and let them decide.

Castleman noted that the 798 AC has a different frame and structure design that a traditional CAT truck. That design lowers the weight of the truck below the smaller payload 795 model (326-tonne payload vs. 363 tonnes). “This is a very efficient design,” Castleman said, adding that the lower empty machine weight helps deliver more power to the ground, with overall payload and allows more efficient fuel use.

In other respects, the electric drive family of trucks are intentionally very similar.

“One of the things that, at Caterpillar, we have learned is the more common you have your trucks, the better your supply chain is for getting parts, and the quicker you can actually take an order and deliver a truck to the customer,” Castleman explained.

Automation update

Another area CAT is focused on is automation.

While miners are still focused on extending equipment life and lowering operating costs rather than buying new equipment, the company is seeing more interest in automation than ever before and is making progress on its autonomous technology.

For example, it’s working on shoring up its automated haulage offering due to customer interest. Mining technology manager Craig Watkins noted that in the larger size classes, miners with greenfield sites are asking only for quotes for automated haul trucks.

While its automated hauling system, Command for hauling, is currently available only for 797F and 793F, Caterpillar is currently conducting field trials with its 789D and the Komatsu 930E model, with other models in development.

The company also emphasizes the interoperability of its systems.

“Our systems are designed to (work with) other OEM’s vehicles,” said Jean Savage, vice-president surface mining and technology.

Bill Dears, commercial mining manager noted that CAT’s MineStar products – Fleet, Terrain, Detect and Health (respectively the company’s fleet management, machine guidance technology, safety, and machine health solutions) provide a way for companies to get some of the benefits of automation without having to adopt full autonomy right away.

“You can take those four point solutions and those are the building blocks that allow you to get between 5% and 30% (improvements in) productivity with your current manned operation,” he said.

The Command system for semi-autonomy or full autonomy can then be more easily added.

MineStar solutions for surface mining are advanced, but CAT’s making an effort now to bring its surface automation capabilities underground.

“We have, in the last year, through our relationships and our partners, (added) totally different, expanded underground offerings,” Dears said.

“So now, the ability for us to basically do what we do on surface – knowing the positions of the machines and the personnel and being able to put that underground in real time – is bringing breakthroughs in …  efficiency and effectiveness underground.”

On the analytics side, the company launched MineStar Health Equipment Insights in October as a response to customer complaints they have lots of data about their machines, but find it difficult to use that data to make decisions. The data management tool is suited for both CAT and non-CAT products.

The MD6200 rotary blasthole drill, launched in October, is capable of drilling at a negative
angle of up to 15°. CREDIT: CATERPILLAR


On the drilling side, the company reached a milestone in its automated drilling technology in October, with its first public demonstration of the MD6250 blast hole drill operating autonomously. The autonomous function will be available in 2019 for that model.

Currently, Caterpillar offers semi-autonomous functions through its Terrain for drilling system. The system gives operators guidance on hole position, drill angle and hole depth, as well as monitoring things like time usage and efficiency.

“It’s a massive improvement for consistent fragmentation and operator performance, that type of thing. The drill is just one of those machines that the more efficiently you drill, the larger the impact all the way downstream,” Watkins said.

As a result, the return on investment on these systems is typically under one year, and can be as short as four to five months.

The Cat load-haul-dumper CREDIT: CATERPILLAR

Underground equipment

While the company discussed one new underground product, the R1700 loadhaul dump (LHD) machine, it doesn’t yet have a battery electric vehicle, something that miners increasingly expect in its product offering.

“I haven’t gone to a meeting in the last three years where the customer hasn’t asked about battery vehicles,” noted Susan Gaugush, commercial manager for underground machines.

The company does have a battery LHD in development that should be ready to launch within two years. The fast-charge machine was recently tested at a mine in Canada in a proof-of-concept trial.

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