930 At Los Bronces

Komatsu Mining Automation Capabilities Expanded with New Acquisition and Collaboration

June 20, 2022
The acquisition of Mine Site Technologies and a new trial of its AHS system with Anglo American will aid further development efforts of autonomous systems for mining equipment.

Komatsu has announced new initiatives aimed at advancing its development of autonomous systems for mining equipment.

On June 6, the company announced plans to deploy its FrontRunner Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) at an open pit copper mine in Chile. The following week on June 15, Komatsu announced plans to acquire Mine Site Technologies, a provider of operational optimization platforms for underground mining. These platforms use communication devices and position tracking which could aid with development of future autonomous systems.

Machine and system automation is an area in which Komatsu has been working for over a decade. Its AHS enables fully autonomous operation of mining equipment, particularly large haul trucks. Use of automation in mining can provide many benefits including improved safety and productivity on mine sites.

And like many industries, mining is facing a lack of skilled labor entering the market. With the ability to run machines autonomously, there may be fewer workers needed on site. Use of automation may also help attract workers wanting to utilize advanced technology. Automation also allows workers to be in a more centralized location monitoring the machines instead of out at remote work sites, further adding to the potential attraction of the work as well as the safety of personnel.

Acquisition Aids Technology Development

Komatsu will acquire Mine Site Technologies Pty Ltd (MST Global), based in New South Wales, through its subsidiary in Australia. MST Global’s technology enables communication between personnel and machines in mining and tunneling applications to help improve safety and productivity. Position tracking of people and equipment is also feasible through the use of optical fiber broadband communication systems which create a real-time geospatial digital twin of underground operation explains Komatsu in its press release announcing the acquisition of MST Global.

The technology enables improved visualization and monitoring of underground environments which will be beneficial for the development of autonomous systems. Komatsu states in its press release that the acquisition will help speed up development of autonomous and teleoperation technology for underground mining equipment.

Because mines are often so deep underground—and getting deeper to meet ever-increasing demand for various materials—development of autonomous systems is more challenging. The GPS and sensor technologies used for above-ground systems do not work as well because of the lack of light and signal capabilities. Development of technologies which can overcome these and other challenges will benefit advancements of automation underground.

Komatsu states in its press release that it plans to work with MST Global to help customers build digital ecosystems with real-time insights and alerts, voice and communication technologies, software solutions, robust network infrastructure and wireless and geospatial technologies. Together the companies will work to increase availability of high-speed, low latency digital communication, which is necessary to: provide mission-critical communication, integrate IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, increase the volume of information communicated and enable real-time tracking, monitoring and automation of mine operations.

Customer Trials Prove System Capabilities

Komatsu and its subsidiary Komatsu Chile S.A. will deploy AHS on 62 of the company’s 930E ultra-class haul trucks by 2024 at the Los Bronces mine in Chile owned by mining company Anglo American. Doing so will help to further validate the potential and benefits of using fully autonomous equipment at mine sites.

Comprised of sensors, cameras and software, AHS enables mining trucks to safely navigate around a mine site. These components work together to maneuver the vehicles while avoiding any people, objects or other obstacles that may be in their vicinity.

In addition to enabling safe operation, autonomous systems like AHS can benefit productivity by enabling machines to drive and perform work in a consistent manner. This reduces rework which can prohibit productivity of an operation.  

This latest customer pilot is one of several the company has conducted over the years to help further develop and prove out its technology. The first commercial deployment was initiated in 2008 at a copper mine in Chile. Since then, over 525 autonomous trucks have been deployed.

In September 2021, just prior to MINExpo INTERNATIONAL—considered one of the largest mining trade shows in the world—Komatsu announced mining companies using its AHS-equipped machines had hauled over 4 billion metric tons of materials. Over the 14 years the system has been deployed with customers, zero system-related injuries have been reported the company said, helping to validate its safety benefits.

AHS mining trucks are currently operating at 13 sites around the world hauling copper, iron ore, oil sands and coal.

The new collaboration with Anglo American adds to these activities, offering the opportunity to further validate the autonomous system.

“FrontRunner AHS is designed to help mines increase production while promoting zero harm,” said Anthony Cook, vice president for Autonomous Systems at Komatsu, in the company’s press release announcing the new partnership with Anglo American. “We’re pleased that Anglo American, a long-time partner, has chosen FrontRunner to help achieve their goals and we look forward to continuing to collaborate on future optimization opportunities.”

Cristobal Mimica, mine modernization manager Los Bronces, Anglo American, stated in Komatsu’s press release that implementing AHS will help optimize its mine site and that the system “is an enabler to improve the way we work and move toward a safer and more sustainable operation.” 

About the Author

Sara Jensen | Technical Editor, Power & Motion

Sara Jensen is technical editor of Power & Motion, directing expanded coverage into the modern fluid power space, as well as mechatronic and smart technologies. She has over 15 years of publishing experience. Prior to Power & Motion she spent 11 years with a trade publication for engineers of heavy-duty equipment, the last 3 of which were as the editor and brand lead. Over the course of her time in the B2B industry, Sara has gained an extensive knowledge of various heavy-duty equipment industries — including construction, agriculture, mining and on-road trucks —along with the systems and market trends which impact them such as fluid power and electronic motion control technologies. 

You can follow Sara and Power & Motion via the following social media handles:

X (formerly Twitter): @TechnlgyEditor and @PowerMotionTech

LinkedIn: @SaraJensen and @Power&Motion

Facebook: @PowerMotionTech

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