News Column

Simulation's Role Expands Across the Industry

July 1, 2014


Computer programmers are sometimes asked-or may occasionally just prefer-to do what's called "coding down to the metal." It means they're writing code directly to an electronic component, such as a specific chip or a graphics board, without having to deal with intermediary layers of protocol or other abstractions.

In mining, coding down to the metal generally has an entirely different connotation: the "metal" is most likely a massive piece of equipment, and the coding isn't designed to make the latest console game more exciting-its intent is more likely to save companies millions of dollars in product development costs, to save equipment operators from injury or death, help them operate conventional equipment more efficiently, or understand new technologies. Nowhere in the industry is this more evident than in the simulation sector. Here are a few examples:

Getting a Head Start on Machine Design

Engineers in Volvo Construction Equipment's Technology arm are developing new methods to increase the amount of virtual testing and simulation that can be conducted before a first machine prototype is built. Not only does this shorten the development cycle, but it also ensures that when prototypes are built, they are much closer to the final product, reducing costs.

Virtual testing and simulation isn't new to Volvo CE-the company has an established virtual product development (VPD) team that works with everything from early stage simulation, to simulating future technology and even understanding operator behavior via a real-time, human-in-the-loop system. However, a recent breakthrough by Volvo CE engineers is allowing more early-stage simulation than ever before.

Until now, the structure and dynamics team required a prototype to test the strength of machine components, such as frames. Now, the early simulation team can use computers and simulation to provide the structure and dynamics team with the forces they need to analyze structural integrity and performance. This allows the team to establish how strong parts need to be a year earlier than was previously the case-all before any money is spent building prototypes. Currently, this method is only being applied to Volvo CE's articulated haulers, but the company's engineers plan to adapt the technology for use on all Volvo CE machines.

"If an articulated hauler is working on an uneven road and the wheel hits a bump, forces are created in the hauler and distributed from the tire to the framework," explained Lennarth Zander, manager of the VPD team. "Through simulation and mathematical calculations, we can accurately measure this force, which allows the structure and dynamics team to determine structural response and the required strength of parts. Previously this was established with a prototype on a test track but now we can achieve the same results faster using a computer. We have created an accurate 3-D model of an articulated hauler in the computer, which is equipped with everything the real machine has. The movements-such as braking and turning-are exactly the same. Watching the animated 3-D machine is like watching a movie."

Another advantage of this technology is that virtual measurements can be taken in locations where it's not possible to do physical measurements. For example, there isn't room for a physical sensor in confined areas, such as on a bolt, but now forces in these places can be measured via simulation. The simulation model can also be used to determine how the machine would behave in different environments, from freezing temperatures to blistering heat or at high altitudes where there is much less oxygen in the air.

"It's becoming increasingly important to shorten the development cycle and use computers to carry out as much virtual testing and simulation as possible," Zander said. "With this new technology, we will increase efficiency and enhance the product development process without compromising accuracy, and that's a big breakthrough. In the future, we should be able to skip early prototypes and build a more mature model with a higher level of accuracy that's much closer to the final machine-saving both time and money."

Cutting Costs

Cipta Kridatama, a major Indonesian mining contractor, improved haul-truck fuel efficiency by 6.9% using simulation-based training, according to simulator developer Immersive Technologies.

Presenting at a recent Immersive Technologies Users Group Forum, Cipta Kridatama's talent development manager, Gemilang Adi Perdana, said, "With commodity prices going down, like many sites, we are looking at ways to cut costs, and fuel consumption was identified as a problem area. We were over budget by nearly 10,000 liters per month at one site and identified the contributors affecting fuel consumption. Operator skill level was the focus."

Fuel records for 30 haul-truck operators were collected over a one-month period and 18 of the 30 exceeded budgeted liters per hour consumption. All operators were assessed using an Immersive Technologies Advanced Equipment Simulator to establish a baseline, followed by simulation-based training and a reassessment. Once operators passed the reassessment, they were put back in the field. After one month, operators were assessed again to confirm retention of the new operating techniques.

A comparison of fuel records between pre-simulationand post-simulation-based training showed an improvement of 6.3% in one month. On-site fuel usage went down each month afterward, with the last reported usage showing a 6.9% overall reduction. The site is now operating 5.8% below the budgeted liters per hour fuel consumption.

"Production time was not affected with these improvements and we believe, with a conservative estimate, we can save $500,000 per year through this training initiative," Perdana said.

The haul fleet has a standard refueling schedule and with tanks containing more fuel at the specified refueling interval, a secondary improvement was gained as refueling now takes less time, thereby increasing production time.

Immersive said the technology driving these fuel savings has now been embedded into SimControl, the software used in its range of Advanced Equipment Simulators.

Software for Soft Rock

ThoroughTec Simulation has been working on simulation for underground soft rock mining-developing and customizing technology in accordance with specifications from client BHP Billiton. The South Africa-based company said adapting its proven software architecture for the soft rock underground environment has challenged the development team, despite extensive experience in simulating underground mining equipment and mining operations.

The primary development will feature six different machine types making up the whole range of underground equipment used in the soft rock mining environment, including a Joy continuous miner and shuttle car, a Fletcher bolter, a Sandvik LHD and two utility-type vehicles.

"The BHP Billiton project has been a significant challenge, both in terms of complexity and scale," said ThoroughTec's executive vice president for R&D, John Waltham. "Firstly, in developing the underground world and the artificially intelligent electric vehicles that operate in it, we had to model the electric cables that power them. They had to roll and unroll correctly, fall realistically, and also not get in the way of other vehicles.

"The ventilation system used in underground soft rock mining was another element of this project that took some time to solve," Waltham said, "but the standout challenge was accurate modeling of the breakout of rock as the continuous miner, a hugely complex machine, cut away at the rock face. I can't reveal exactly how we accomplished this, but what we achieved is incredibly realistic replication of the continuous mining process."

"The CYBERMINE range of simulators has been extremely successful in realizing productivity gains and safety improvements in both the hard rock underground mining environment and in surface coal mining operations, so it was a rational progression for us to apply these proven training technologies and techniques to the underground soft rock environment," said Waltham.

Anticipating Autonomy

With an eye toward the future, Immersive Technologies recently noted that the mining industry's accelerating trend toward adoption of automated brings new challenges. A major challenge in the adoption of automation is people-specifically the re-shaping of a mining operation's workforce to thinking and working differently. This is a key obstacle in the path of successful deployment and operation of autonomous mining systems.

At Codelco's Gabriela Mistral (Gaby) copper mine in Chile, Immersive is developing and integrating what it describes as a world-first blended learning training center for autonomous haulage. At the center, personnel will undergo computer-based training, virtual classroom and simulator training to prepare them specifically for autonomous haulage operations.

"For Codelco Gabriela Mistral, this requirement, developed in conjunction with Immersive Technologies, provides us a customized solution including the technology with which we operate in Gaby and allows us to obtain better safety standards and productivity," said Orlando Rubilar, Codelco Gabriela Mistral mine manager. The Gaby mine has operated Komatsu driverless trucks since 2008.

"Mining operations adopting autonomous systems need to train a large number of personnel in a relatively short period of time. We've heard an estimated 15% retention of knowledge among trainees and inconsistent field training while deploying autonomous systems. The integration of our solutions are proven to increase effectiveness, deliver consistent training and reduce human error," said Darrell Massie, autonomous mining product manager, Immersive Technologies.

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: Engineering and Mining Journal

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