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Getting on board the fleet of the future

Todd Peate


The machines that form part of the future of mining will do so because of the financial, safety and sustainability driven outcomes we’re measuring now. Working collaboratively up and down the value chain and understanding where maximum value is obtained for customers is critical, are we ready to take a step back, look at the big picture and appropriately commercialise the outputs? – Bis Chief Development Officer, Todd Peate explains.

 

Asset evolution in the mining industry has historically been dominated by the ‘bigger is better’ motto. It’s been a paradigm that has leaned, almost horizontally, towards large, capital-intensive mining fleets.

The classic shot most of us have, standing beside a giant mining vehicle is atypical of this; an almost sentimental link to big machinery.

And for a long time, the numbers stacked up to support this approach. In fact, they still do in many situations, but as the surface mining industry evolves, a number of key challenges are emerging, and with them come some key trends we can’t ignore, which prompts me to ask, is there a better way?

Great Aspirations for ESG

The mining industry is a foundation stone in global development but our shared report card in reducing the impact of our activities is not where it needs to be. Collectively we have great aspirations and some very proactive companies are throwing time, energy and real cash into materialising ideas – and so we should – our licence to operate relies on it.

We are seeing a big push towards renewable energy sources from almost all of key stakeholders; be that customers, regulators or investors; who all see us having a role in the de carbonisation of the economy. As a large scale resources logistics service provider, Bis is not immune from this; we must grow and adapt our business to deliver these outcomes.

Our ability to operate more efficiently, more responsibly, and overall, having a lesser impact has to intrinsically link to the idea of doing things differently. That being said, how does interoperability and autonomy come into view then?

Perhaps operating a high capital cost fleet is no longer the best approach. Perhaps looking at the traditional granular way of assessing input cost at each individual step of our operation, thinking it will contribute to the whole eventually, is in fact holding us back from making genuine and material proactive advancements. Perhaps a lower cost approach to fleet is the way we can ‘do things differently’.

Is interoperability the fulcrum?

Long gone are the days when customers had limited choices for fleet selection. Digitisation and the automation of their operations is opening up new and potentially significant value enhancing options.

Customers are seeking suppliers that can be inter operable and actively collaborate with other suppliers to improve outcomes for them. The ideas of end-to-end, full value chain visibility are at the core to this. In other words, keep your blinkers on at your own peril.

We must focus on what liberates value for the customer and being more insightful and transparent with our respective part of the value chain. We cannot simply focus on our vertical alone by solely optimising our own respective solutions. We need to talk both up and downstream.

Interoperability and its implications on productivity for our customers is really one of the most important pillars of fleet strategy moving forward.

Environmental requirements dictate the use of less diesel, less overall environmental impact, and the improvement across all mining stages. Logistics providers have a fantastic opportunity to lead the way on energy transition and this is really starting to accelerate and push the boundaries of what is deemed possible. Electrification from renewable sources is one of the long term options here but remaining agile and open to alternatives as they are developed and commercialised is probably even more critical

Automation, which only recently was still the domain of the largest of miners, is quickly materialising as the frontrunner for future fleet optimisation and mine development innovation for customers of all sizes. Fleet automation has been outside the reach for many customers up until now due to barriers including scale and high adoption costs. With technological advancements driving costs down, an increase in the number of suppliers and entry level options available such as driver assist and leader follower, automation is now a genuine option for much more of the market.

It almost goes without saying that it will be critical for future fleets to be able to be retrofitted and interoperable to ensure that fleet performance fulfils its role in optimising broader operations.

Ore bodies – smaller deposits, longer distances

One of the visible trends in mining is that mining satellite pits are becoming more economically viable.

Satellite pits, located many kilometres away from where the major processing and fixed infrastructure is located have been uneconomical to mine. The typical way material would be mined is that a fleet of dump trucks operate out of pit to a rehandle. The material is then transferred to a fleet of road trains which would move the material the dominant distance to another rehandle, or to the processing infrastructure. Each time you put the material down and have to pick it back up again, it adds to costs and therefore to the viability of the satellite pit.

Bis has the opportunity to play a big role in assisting our customers to grow, by developing new solutions to move the same amount of material with less; in the safest possible way. To do this well, customers are increasingly looking for solutions that act like both a haul truck and a dump truck to bring greater efficiencies to the end to end solution.

Blue sky thinking, at ground level

When we think about our development roadmap, I ask myself a key question, “What are those big themes that are impacting our customers and how can we cater for those requirements?”.

The voice of the customer is a crucial component of our roadmap across all fleet innovation and is certainly one of the best tools available to innovators, because in my experience, our customers want their suppliers to be successful. If they are successful it will bring meaningful benefit to their business.

One thing our customer engagement and innovation pipeline has taught me is the idea of optimising the mine; don’t simply optimise a single piece of equipment.

Recently, Bis has brought to market some new solutions that talk to some of the ideas above and we’re actively working on the development of the remainder with strong customer engagement as a cornerstone.

The launch of Rexx, a 160-tonne payload solution that can come out of pit and travel up to 30km whilst reducing fuel consumption up to 40% is a fantastic example of a lower cost approach to fleet; with six customers running detailed trials of this solution during 2019 and 2020 as part of fleet replenishment and cost optimisation project assessment.

Rexx speaks directly to improvements in environmental footprint and productivity for our customers. In the short to medium term roadmap, variants will be available in both hybrid and electric with the existing solution capable to be retrofitted with automation capability.

Summing it up

The paradigm of a high capital fleet is no longer the only way. A lower cost approach using interoperability as a design theme is a tantalising idea that companies throughout the value stream now need to deliver against. Companies can no longer simply claim to be innovative in their own space, they need to be able to deliver it.

Bis has an astonishingly long history in the haulage space, and it’s something our business is very proud of, but the challenge now is to continue to build on that legacy.

Having a genuine point of difference helps. Bis is an operator. It operates dump trucks, it operates loaders, it operates underground, and on the surface. In fact, Bis operates everywhere – and that unique mix of OEM and operator capability gives us a very unique insight to ways in which to improve the existing available solutions in the market.

We can monetise this through our business – that’s one thing – but actually informing the innovation efforts based on pain points and productivity opportunities for customers, allows us to do it faster than most.

In recent years, Bis has been able to demonstrate that the material investment in innovation is starting to bring tangible change to the industry. This is a great place to be as a business and an exciting story to be a part of.

What’s next?

With the success of Rexx and feedback from the market, we have a roadmap for a product family that will see Rexx continue to grow well into the back end of this decade and beyond. In other areas we are developing a category disruptor in the underground market in the early part of 2021.

From an automation point of view, we’ll be bringing something to the market very soon in the form of an offering that has potential application for not only our equipment, but for all equipment in the industry. Stay tuned!

Todd will present at the upcoming METS Tech Talk Webinar on The Future Fleet: Driving Production and Productivity on Wednesday 9 September