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Hard-Line releases a suite of new teleop solutions

May 23, 2016
by Norm Tollinsky
In: Technology

Hard-Line Solutions, a Sudbury company specializing in teleoperation of surface and underground mining equipment, is releasing a series of new products enabling autonomous tramming and the remote operation of multiple pieces of equipment by a single operator.

Teleop Auto allows an operator on surface, in a refuge station or air-conditioned Sea Can to simply push a button to send a loader, truck or other piece of equipment to a predetermined location. Steering, speed and gear selection are all automated.

“A 3D scanning laser is used to generate a map of the level where the machines are operating,” explained Ryan Sigglekow, vice-president of Hard-Line Solutions. “The operator has a touch screen interface in front of him with the map. He simply clicks on the map, hits go, and the machine proceeds to the selected location, following a predetermined path.

“The benefit of Teleop Auto is that the machine will run faster and will never hit the walls.”

Teleop Multi, another new product, allows a single operator to select from a pool of equipment.

“Say you’re running a load-haul-dump machine (LHD) and taking a load of ore to a grizzly,” explained Max Gray, Hard-Line’s marketing manager. “You dump it, then you want to break rock, so you switch to a rock breaker. It doesn’t matter what the equipment is. It could just as easily be a truck or a drill.”

Original equipment manufacturers offer the technology as well, but only for new machines that they manufacture themselves.

“We’re positioning ourselves in the marketplace where we can install the technology on any machine no matter what the brand or how old it is,” said Sigglekow.

“A drill manufacturer, for example, will provide an automated system, but only for their own drill, and only for a new drill,” added Gray. “There are very few companies out there that can say, ‘We can do all your drills or all your scoops. They can be Atlas Copcos, CATs or Wagners. It doesn’t matter. We offer a one-stop shop solution. Most mines are looking for standardization so they don’t have to deal with so many vendors. They want one company that can solve all of their automation problems.”

As mines get deeper and extend further from the shaft or portal, an operator can lose hours in travel time getting to and from the face. With teleoperation, equipment operators on surface can save hours a day in travel time and be more productive. Similarly, during blasting operations, miners are not allowed underground and are only able to return when the air quality is high enough. Operating equipment from surface, an LHD operator can watch the dust clear and begin moving ore within minutes following a blast.

The adoption of teleoperation has been slower in Canada than in other jurisdictions, but Hard-Line is seeing more and more interest in the technology.

The company currently has four mines using its teleoperation products across Canada.

Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore Company of Canada uses Hard-Line’s Teleop solution to remotely operate a bulldozer and an excavator at its open pit mine in Labrador. The Canadian Malartic open pit gold mine in northwestern Quebec, one of the largest gold mines in Canada, uses Hard-Line technology to operate a front shovel, a large front-end loader, an excavator and a bulldozer.

In Ontario, Hard-Line’s Teleop products are in service at Goldcorp’s Red Lake Complex and Alamos Gold’s Young-Davidson Mine in Matachewan.

Hard-Line has also made inroads in Chile, where Codelco uses its products to remotely operate three haul trucks, a water truck, a shovel and two dozers.

In the Sudbury Basin, teleoperation is used on a few rockbreakers, but no mobile equipment.

The adoption of the technology has lagged until now because early systems were lacking in reliability, said Sigglekow.

“Maintenance was expensive and there was a lot of downtime. What we’ve done is made it simple. We’ve improved the diagnostics, made it easier to troubleshoot and easier to change parts.”

“There’s always a reluctance to change to new technology, but when customers see the numbers and the safety benefits, it’s pretty hard not to look at it,” added Gray. “It’s catching on very quickly. We have a lot of irons in the fire. We’re busy and I see it getting even busier.”

Hard-Line is also gearing up for the release of Teleop Multi Auto and Teleop Auto X, which allow for autonomous tramming of multiple pieces of equipment. One machine at a time can be operated with Teleop Multi Auto. The Auto X product, due for release later this year, allows for the simultaneous operation of multiple pieces of equipment.

“One operator, for example, could run two LHDs and a rockbreaker,” said Sigglekow. “He can get a full bucket, send the machine off, pick another machine, load it and send it off. Depending on how long the run is, he might also have time to operate a rockbreaker or start a drill on another level.”

Hard-Line offers its customers an end-to-end solution, said Sigglekow.

“With the teleop package, we supply everything. We do the network to connect to the machine, we do the power supplies and the level hardware. We supply the installation on the machine, convert it to electrical control, we supply the operator station, the IT that goes with it and the after-sales support.”

To spur sales in the current down market, Hard-Line will also offer customers the opportunity to stretch out payments and cover the cost of teleop systems from operating budgets.

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