Minegem: Autonomous navigation, high production without an operator
Minegem is Caterpillar ’s underground loader automation system featuring the first sophisticated autonomous navigation system. It allows the operator to work in a safe and ergonomic location far from the loader—on the surface or underground. The robotic haulage technology already is working in a number of world-class mines and is fully supported by Caterpillar.
The operator no longer needs to travel to the machine to drive it; thus, the operator is not exposed to the risks of the underground environment. The system has the ability to increase loader utilization, because operator change time can be reduced to near zero, and the machine can operate without taking breaks. Productivity increases as its guidance system accurately steers the loader at faster tramming speeds than possible with manual remote operation. Compared to tele-remote operation, Minegem reduces damage to the loader as it automatically avoids contact with the walls.
The system provides two levels of control.
Copilot mode—with operator assisted automatic steering of the machine—can be considered the next logical step up from tele-remote.
Autopilot mode allows the operator to load the bucket using the integrated digital tele-remotes. Then the operator sends the loader on a mission in which it automatically trams, dumps and returns to the draw point. Operating under autopilot, several machines can be operated by one operator.
Ladar, a laser-radar range sensing system, provides spatial information to the machine. One Ladar unit looks to the front and one to the rear of the machine. Similarly, one camera on the front and one on the back provide real-time video to the remote operator. The operator also can get audio feedback from the machine. Machine health status, too, is displayed on the remote operator console.
The operator can set speeds for different parts of the haulage cycle to optimize productivity. Minegem also can incorporate road condition monitoring that will slow or even stop the loader when road conditions deteriorate. Caterpillar can design the operator station, or control station, around the requirements of each site. Control stations can be made stationary or portable and can be located underground or on the surface. In some instances, control stations have been set up in trucks that can move to different areas on the mining property.
Operating the loader from the surface does not compromise production or the health of the machine. The system is intelligent and flexible and can adapt to changes in the environment. The result is an extremely robust and adaptable solution capable of maintaining production at planned rates in a variety of applications.
Minegem can be fitted to a Caterpillar underground loader at the factory or in the field to create a semi-automated or fully automated machine.