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Hard-Line ramps up testing at NORCAT mine

August 18, 2017
by Norm Tollinsky
In: Technology

Auto loading and dumping in trials

Hard-Line offers four flavours of teleoperation, beginning with the basic one-to-one product that allows an operator to run one machine from a chair on surface. Its most advanced product, Teleop Auto X allows an operator to run multiple machines simultaneously in autonomous mode.

Hard-Line Solutions, a Sudbury-area company specializing in remote control systems for heavy equipment, is expanding its use of the NORCAT Underground Centre for testing and refining its suite of advanced teleop systems.

“We’re putting in a dedicated datalink from our office in Dowling to the mine, so we’ll be able to operate our equipment at the NORCAT Underground Centre anytime we want,” said Hard-Line president Walter Siggelkow. “It’s more impactful to demonstrate teleoperation remotely than it is from the mine itself.”

In September 2016, Hard-Line demonstrated its teleop technology from a booth at MINExpo in Las Vegas to rave reviews, prompting a visit to the NORCAT mine, 55 kilometres north of Sudbury, by a Discovery Channel camera crew and an episode on the channel’s popular Daily Planet show.

Hard-Line offers four flavours of teleoperation, beginning with the basic one-to-one product that allows an operator to run one machine from a chair on surface. Teleop Multi allows the operator to select from a number of machines, only one of which can be operated at a time, while using Teleop Auto, the operator simply pushes a button and the machine drives itself from point A to point B. “He loads and dumps it, that’s all,” said Max Gray, vice-president, sales and marketing.

Hard-Line is using the NORCAT facility to test and refine Teleop Auto X, a total autonomous mining solution that includes auto loading and dumping.

“Auto X allows one operator to operate multiple machines at the same time,” explained Gray. “He might be operating an LHD, running it on auto, and switch to a rockbreaker while the LHD is on its way to the ore pass. Or he might switch over to a drill. It doesn’t matter what the machine is.”

Hard-Line uses 3D LiDAR to create a very high-resolution map of the area in which the equipment will be working. “With that map, we can place the machine exactly where we want it.” explained Siggelkow. “It’s the same technology that the big automobile manufacturers are using to develop driverless cars.”

Auto X is currently being tested at the NORCAT mine, but Teleop, Teleop Multi and Teleop Auto are all deployed and in production.

Goldcorp’s Red Lake operation has five LHDs remotely operated from surface, as well as an underground locomotive.

The company’s Musselwhite Mine, a fly-in operation in northwestern Ontario, has seven machines equipped with Hard-Line’s teleoperation technology. According to Siggelkow, plans are in the works to also set up a chair in the mine’s Thunder Bay office, which will allow mine personnel to operate equipment from a distance of 480 kilometres.

Two systems have also recently been sold to Codelco’s El Teniente mine in Chile, Hard-Line’s first underground teleop systems in South America.

Trials are in progress at another major gold mining company and negotiations are under way with a large diamond miner.

What sets Hard-Line apart is that its technology is brand agnostic, said Siggelkow. “We’re not stuck with one brand. The OEM technology works on their machines only. Ours works across platforms.”

Teleoperation delivers substantial increases in productivity.

“It’s making use of time when no one’s underground,” said Siggelkow. “Normally, once they blast, they have to wait for the gas to clear. Now they don’t. From a mine’s point of view, they’ve already spent the capital for the equipment and they want to use it.

“Also, after a large longhole blast, they need to get the ground control people in there before people are allowed to go in, but a remote control scoop can go in immediately. That’s why they’re getting increases in productivity.”

To better serve its customers in the U.S., Hard-Line recently celebrated the opening of an office in Salt Lake City, Utah. It also has offices in Chile and Peru, and plans to expand to Australia.

The Daily Planet video can be viewed at www.hard-line.com.

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