When dispatching, mines have different priorities. While some sites strive to keep their shovel use balanced, others just want to reduce equipment wait times. Regardless of these preferences, every site wants a consistent grade of ore delivered to the plant as efficiently as possible.

The Wenco Dispatching Service can handle these preferences and more, especially when receiving data from third-party systems that mines run onsite. Our service gains a great deal of functionality when integrated with crusher control systems, such as CitectSCADA.

Through our Data Exchange Service, third-party systems are able to share data with the Wenco system in real time. In the case of crusher control systems, the Wenco Dispatching Service can receive up-to-the-second information about crusher bin levels, throughput rates, and operational status. With this shared data, our system knows which crusher bin needs material the most to maintain a steady flow to the plant. This information lets our system update truck assignments accordingly so they always go to the right bin.

Image of truck dumping in crusher

For example, let’s say a truck is hauling material to the crushers, all of which are processing material at an even rate. Based on bin levels and feed rates, the Wenco Dispatching Service has assigned the truck to dump at Crusher 1. But, as the truck approaches, Crusher 1 encounters a problem; a large rock has become lodged, sending the crusher into a delay status. Unaffected, the other crushers are still working fine. By connecting to the crusher control system, the Wenco system knows the instant Crusher 1 changes its status. Using the shared data, the Wenco Dispatching Service updates the truck’s assignment and sends it to dump at Crusher 3 instead.

This functionality is especially useful for reducing idle times at crushers. By updating the Wenco system with delay status, no truck sits idle as its assigned crusher deals with a problem. Trucks can easily switch to any crusher ready to process their payloads.

Integration with crusher control systems is just one way that Wenco’s open architecture can benefit mines. Combining this third-party data with our service’s expert handling of material blends, we can keep the haul cycle flowing efficiently.

Interested in knowing more about Wenco’s third-party connectivity and Data Exchange Service? Get our brochure here.

Many factors play a role in determining a machine’s position accuracy. First and foremost, which part of the machine are you trying to measure?

On dozers, our BenchManager machine guidance system measures the machine’s elevation at track level. Track elevation tells us how the terrain is built. These measurements are the same as those taken by surveyors, but they are taken continuously at a much higher resolution. Typically, surveyors only take measurements every 10 to 20 metres and the flatter the terrain, the fewer points they measure. BenchManager Dozer, on the other hand, takes measurements two to five times per second and records its data every two metres.

Mining Excavator Arm Geometry System

Accuracy calculations are different for shovels, though. Our system gets its positions from GPS and GLONASS (plus Galileo or BeiDou, if desired). At the antenna, this position is accurate to about two or three centimetres. The system’s dual GNSS antenna setup also provides a heading that is accurate to about 0.4 degrees. This dual antenna configuration means that measurements further away from the GNSS antenna have a larger position error. (Estimated error is calculated using the formula: position error from heading = distance from antenna X sin(heading accuracy)).

In general, big shovels like the Hitachi EX8000 and the Hitachi EX5500 will see relative precision of their buckets around 30 cm. A recent survey of a Hitachi EX5600 running BenchManager provided bucket position of better than 20 cm horizontal and around 10 cm vertical. Many factors are at work with these systems, but we generally say 30 cm or better precision for shovels using BenchManager with the Arm Geometry System. Smaller equipment can expect smaller errors and larger equipment, larger errors.

These figures are simply guidelines. As good as our equipment is, it still requires surveyors to take accurate measurements so that our software can compute the solutions accurately. Our system also depends on satellite geometry to get the best positioning possible. Deep inside mines, that satellite availability decreases so we use at least two satellite constellations (three, if necessary) for high-precision.

When analyzing the accuracy and precision of a high-precision shovel, we can’t use a single measurement at an offset location or bucket position. We take several measurements and use them to determine the average position difference (the accuracy) and standard deviation (the precision) of all measurements. For dozers, we rely on a controlled surface measured by surveyors. We drive the dozer using BenchManager over this surface and compare the two results. In this way, we know the accuracy and position that our high-precision system can give to mine equipment.

The majority of my career has been spent working with information and enabling organizations to leverage their data. Over the years I have worked with many chief information officers (CIOs) and I’ve always wondered about the typical career path for the role. Most CIOs have a background in networks, servers, and general infrastructure while very few have a background in data or analytics. The CIO has traditionally been tasked with the company’s technological vision through planning, budgeting, and purchasing. The focus has been on networks, servers, and other infrastructure items. As a result, IT departments have long been perceived as cost centres that are required for the business to operate but that don’t add any tangible ROI.

The advent of The Data Revolution which includes topics such as Big Data, Open Data, and Data Infrastructures — is quickly changing the paradigm for technology and the CIO. The value of data is now being discussed regularly at all levels of every organization. Companies that are effectively leveraging data as critical assets are thriving, while others that have yet to recognize the value of data are stagnating. In effect, the “information” aspect of the chief information officer role has never been more relevant. Unfortunately, the typical CIO background does not lend itself seamlessly to the unique challenges of business intelligence and analytic technologies. As a result, many projects in the analytics area have met with limited success.

Data visualization

Nowhere is the Data Revolution more difficult than mining. Traditionally, the mining sector has been one of the least progressive from a technology enablement standpoint. This is due, in large part, to the autonomous relationship each mine has with the corporation as a whole. While each industry presents a unique set of challenges for a CIO, the mining industry is arguably the most complex. There are numerous areas where technology can add value, but it is difficult to achieve standardization. The resulting landscape makes consolidation of data nearly impossible. As a result, the Data Revolution has yet to spread successfully throughout most mining companies. After all, how do we create the “single version of the truth” when every mine has unique systems, processes, and guidelines?

This is the challenge that we intend to address with Wenco Analytics. Wenco has long been trusted as a premier solution for fleet management and mine productivity. We generate a lot of data that are used in real-time to improve the performance of your mine and, now, we are embarking on the journey to further extend the value of this information through analytics. As the new CIO at Wenco, I bring over 15 years of business intelligence and analytics background from many industries, including airline, oil and gas, and mining. At Wenco, and at Hitachi globally, we have a vision that we believe will transform the industry. I look forward to sharing our progress and journey through this blog and I welcome the opportunity to collaborate.

Dave Hewlett, Chief Information Officer

By the 1970s, large drilling machines had become widely used in the mining and quarry industries. These drills would move from one hole location to another by one of two means: either surveyors would mark each hole location for the entire pattern or drill operators would manually measure the distance between each hole location. (This latter way gave far less accurate hole spacing.)

Since then, with the use of global navigation satellite system (GNSS), the mining industry has had the ability to navigate machines to drill holes with high precision, without needing surveyors to mark hole patterns out in the field. All pattern designs can now be done within the office and sent to the drill electronically, allowing a seamless operation between the engineering design and the actual drilling of holes.

The Wenco Drill Navigation system fulfills this basic requirement by helping the machine operator be able to quickly and precisely move the drill to each hole location in the pattern. In doing so, the system eliminates the need for tedious field survey work and delays in laying out planned drill patterns. Setup of the drill is also faster, as the system provides real-time feedback about actual mast position and bearing during operation. The Wenco Drill Navigation system also automatically gathers as-drilled information and other operational information, which are extremely valuable for blasting personnel.

Inside the cab of the drill, the operator sees two main views on the Wenco Drill Navigation screen. The first view is the main navigation screen, as seen in this screenshot.

Screenshot of Wenco Drill Navigation Main Screen

This view gives the operator distance to the selected hole location, best line of approach, target depth, and any angle hole information. It also allows the operator to accurately place the bit of the drill on the designed hole location. As the drill approaches the hole, the crosshairs zoom in on the hole location, giving the operator the ability to exactly place the drill bit at the designed location.

Once the drill operator is ready to start drilling, the second view is activated, as seen in this image.

Screenshot of Wenco Drill Navigation drilling screen

This screen gives the operator important as-drilling attributes, such as target depth, rate of penetration (ROP), and number of rods being used. In addition, the operator is able to graphically see the depths of the bit and the top of the hole in relation to the target depth.

Within Wenco’s office software suite, the mine’s engineers are able to see a visualization of the as-drilled hole pattern, as seen below.

Screenshot of Wenco Drill Navigation Office View

Each hole can be selected to see detailed information within a particular segment of the hole, as seen here.

Screenshot of Wenco Drill Navigation hole information view

With even just these features described, mines can realize several key benefits. First, there’s no longer a need to have surveyors marking holes for a drill pattern. Second, actual as-drilled hole information can be seen by blasting personnel, allowing them to load holes accordingly with explosives. Knowing the actual hole spacing and ROP information, fragmentation can be improved and become more consistent. And third, with the operator being able to drill each hole to a targeted elevation, the benches of the mine become more consistent. All of these can give a mine a quick return on investment and easily justify purchasing the Wenco Drill Navigation system.

These features form the basis of the Wenco Drill Navigation system, but there are more advanced features that can give mines even more value — things like integration of safety aspects of machine proximity and fixed hazard warnings. Also, there’s the ability for the operator to create notes, or hole tags, allowing later analysis of things like voids discovered or coal seam locations. A full reporting suite is available to monitor all aspects of the drilling operation. Wenco’s development teams are currently focused on adding consumable tracking and strata recognition. All these features add even more capabilities to the already powerful Wenco Drill Navigation system.

It’s no secret that the mining industry is suffering a skills shortage. According to Canada’s Mining Industry Human Resources Council, 40 per cent of mine workers are currently aged 50 or older. One in three of these workers will retire in the next decade. On top of that, fewer and fewer workers stay in the industry long-term, opting instead for jobs in other sectors.

The result? A lack of low-level workers who build knowledge and move into senior positions — a process that’s invaluable, especially in weaker markets and remote, unstable regions.
Image of dispatcher using Wenco fleet management system.
While there’s no substitute for experience, new technology can ease some of this strain on the industry. Advances in machinery and fleet management systems take the pressure off senior workers, letting greenhorns do those jobs better than before.

Take Wenco’s Dynamic Dispatching application: Its algorithm directs trucks through the haul cycle, helping dispatchers perform well even without years of experience. Similarly, PitNav gives truck operators turn-by-turn directions through the mine. Seasoned drivers may scoff, but rookie operators benefit from help when navigating a constantly changing mine site.

These solutions can make all the difference at a mine, but only if they’re used correctly. Senior staff are especially good at showing new workers useful tricks in dispatcher software or the best ways to use onboard screens. Without these high-level workers, that knowledge doesn’t get passed down directly.

In these cases, documentation and training materials smooth this transfer of knowledge. Online help and courses let new workers troubleshoot problems they encounter, even if there are no senior staff available to offer advice. Good training programs remove some of the guesswork in operating machinery or running a fleet management system. They may even show workers how to use long-ignored features of their tools, improving the mine’s ROI.

Every mine needs its own solution to thrive during a skills shortage. Lucky operations may attract veteran staff, while others may intensify their worker training. Some mines, though, may need an alternative solution when in-depth industry knowledge is unavailable. Advances in technology provide one way these companies can fill the void left by long-time miners who retire with no young blood ready to step in.

Shovel operators are being tasked with an increasing number of responsibilities. As their responsibilities grow, so it seems, does the number of technologies that they are asked to interact with. They need a fleet management system to track production, monitor their loading efficiencies and report on Key Performance Indicators. They need a High Precision GNSS to monitor floor elevation. Precision bucket positioning systems are added to help maintain proper delivery of material to meet quality requirements. They need a payload system to calculate the appropriate tonnage loaded in the trucks. They have the onboard PLCs to monitor equipment health and proper machine operation. Vehicle safety systems to detect and avoid accidents are being installed on the machines. This list goes on; fatigue monitoring, shovel tooth detection, rear and side view cameras…

A convergence of technologies benefitting the plant, engineering, operations, and overall safety, all on one screen for ease of access.

But there is more to it than just presenting the information on screen all at once. Careful consideration is made when consolidating this much output to ensure the information is meaningful when presented and accessible when required. In other words, in the design of the GUI we are optimizing the operator’s Situational Awareness. Situational Awareness (SA) is being aware of what is happening around you and understanding how information, events, and your own actions will impact your goals and objectives.

I delivered a new white paper at SME in Salt Lake City in late February describing Wenco’s involvement in the Global Mining Standards and Guidelines’s Situational Awareness Working Group, our long history in developing operator interfaces with Situational Awareness in mind, and some real-world example of how this expertise is applied to operator screens. You can download the white paper on our Resources Page under the white paper section.

Before the advent of high precision GPS for mining equipment, selective mining of complex ore bodies was virtually nonexistent and extremely costly. High precision machine guidance has given mining operations the ability to selectively mine detailed ore and waste zones to minimize both ore dilution to the processing plant and also ore loses to the tailings or waste dumps.

Current HP-GPS solutions now link high precision GPS software on the equipment, and high precision GPS planning software in the office, to ensure that detailed information from the mine planning and geology groups is displayed for both shovel operators and dispatchers. The equipment operators have detailed onscreen information such as mining limits, exact bucket x,y,z location , colour coded dig blocks by material type, limits of mined out faces, and mining floor elevations with cut/fill information.

The office software applications give the engineering, geology, and processing plant staff real-time mined out information. Blended ore or waste qualities for each truck are monitored in real-time as they leave the shovels and are dispatched to the appropriate ore, waste, or stockpile locations. Processing plants are able to see exact ore blends dumped at the crushers, and monitor and react to blends coming into the plant.

The same is to be said with waste movement, especially in cases where waste dumps or tailings structures are constructed with various different materials due to geotechnical constraints. These waste materials can be tracked from each shovel location, material type per bucket, bucket location at the face, haul routes, and final placement on the waste zones. HPGPS on dozers at the dumps are then able to ensure the waste dumps are constructed as per design with proper material placement.

This overall high precision and machine guidance process enables mining operations to track all material movement within the mine pit and report real-time and historical data visually within the dispatch system, and through custom reports.

While the fundamentals of mining have remained the same for many years, the new high precision GPS technologies being introduced from companies such as Wenco are giving mines more control over operations as well as flexibility to quickly adapt in changing market and environmental conditions. To be successful in today’s mining industry, mines increasingly have to target very specific ore qualities and High Precision GPS is the solution that makes it all possible.

More than ever the global mining industry is facing new and growing challenges to support and sustain a viable business.  At the product end of the business, commodity prices can fluctuate substantially and rapidly force mining companies to be more reactive and less proactive than they would like to be in managing their business.  Potential viable ore bodies can disappear virtually overnight from a company’s asset portfolio as related commodity prices drop while environmental control and operating costs escalate.   Fortunately, for the more progressive mining companies, rapidly advancing technologies empower them to better deal with these current and future challenges.  Those technologies functioning within the open and integrated architecture of today’s Mine Fleet Management Systems (MFMS) can help the process of Full Value Creation in the three key asset components of an industry namely; Physical, Human, and Business Assets.

Mine Fleet Management Systems have a real-time operational focus on the efficiencies of production that take into account material quality requirements, equipment utilization and health, and operator safety. These benefits are realized immediately; load-by-load, shift-by-shift, day-by day, offering improvements across shift boundaries to create consistent performance and outcomes from varying crew capabilities. These are the real-time performance improvements that these systems deliver on the physical assets of the company.

But it’s the additional aspect of  how you use that data, that will create opportunities for continuous improvement.  These systems are great at providing measurements and delivering those results, but it is the personnel at the mine that need to identify what Key Performance Indicators, what measurements, are the most significant. Being able to take results that very clearly identify how the mine is performing, determine why mine performance is at that level, and then create a plan on how to improve.

Systems providers need to be proactive in at least three areas to help their customers succeed in this goal.

One: Provide tools with the flexibility to not only report data, but to deliver meaningful representations of results for accurate and informed decision making. Dashboard tools are ideal for this purpose, especially if they are user configurable with options for multiple visualizations and data sources.

Two: Allow ease of access to the information. Have an open system philosophy that encourages their customers to not only access the data but share it among other systems at numerous levels.  Whether it’s at a localized level where one user benefits from connectivity of technologies, or at an enterprise level where key data is fed into systems such as SAP for the development of operational strategies.

Three: Understand the entire value chain and provide coaching at every level. Throughout the scope of our system, Wenco is able to provide training for the machine operators, work with ITC departments to ensure system reliability, and engage with mine engineers to ensure that their plans are being properly executed.

We are also fortunate enough to be associated through common ownership by Hitachi with Business Intelligence companies such as Hitachi Solutions and Hitachi Consulting that work with Management at the mine sites and at the C-Level to achieve sustainability through operational strategies. At the managerial level it is about leveraging even more value from systems, whether from proper and planned integration of systems into SAP, or through identifying benefits and using those benefits to lead the implementation of new methodology. At the C-level it’s about being responsible to the shareholders by delivering true operational value through the implementation of best practices across a global footprint.

It all boils down to the same source data, and using that data towards achieving the common goals at each level, and at every point along the value chain; safely increasing operational throughput, improving mechanical reliability, and lowering costs.

My first hands on experience with GPS was on a Soviet Seismic ship called the Akademik Kreps, where the company I worked for provided the navigation system. Seismic surveyors explore for oil on land and offshore by sending an energy source into the ground, then recording the energy returns on a chart, and mapping this chart to the real world.

Akademik-KrepsAt the time we could only use GPS twice a day for about 2 hours each instance. We were switching between GPS, Transit satellite and dead reckoning. We were too far from shore to use ground based radio navigation systems or DGPS and we were working in the Russian Chukchi and East Siberian seas without ground support.

With this coarse quality of positioning finding your way back to within 100 metres of a shot point in the middle of the ocean was considered close enough. However, we were still mindful of where the GPS antenna was placed with respect to the hydrophone streamer and the air guns generating the seismic energy, and took the time to measure those offsets to within the nearest metre.

Today we only use RTK quality GPS receivers on High Precision systems. Not that we need that much precision for horizontal positioning but to get the most accurate elevation possible. To do this we need to know where the GPS antennas are located with respect to the body and tracks of the machine. The centerline of the machine and the boom joint are good horizontal reference points in the case of a shovel.

The antenna precision with respect to the base station is 1-2 cm. We want to match this precision, or better, when taking our offset measurements from the body frame to the GPS antennas. The most reliable way to do this is to use a total station (the electrical/optical instrument used in modern surveying). This may seem like overkill to some, but remember, that our errors grow the further we get away from the GPS antenna so we should minimize measurement error whenever possible.

For smaller equipment such as loaders and dozers (relatively speaking of course, all mining equipment is huge), where we are measuring the antennas with respect to the corners or centerline of the cab, offset measurements can be done with a tape measure. However, I still prefer a total station. The total station makes it easier to get the measurement from the antenna, to track level, and to the edge of the bucket or blade.

Referring back to the first two paragraphs of this article, can you guess what year it was when we were seismic surveying on the Kreps?

In the December issue of the Mining Industry Newsletter, Global Business Reports interviewed Wenco’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Glen Trainor. The article features an in-depth discussion of Wenco’s fleet management systems and related cost-savings, database management, safety and more. The interview was done as part of research being conducted by GBR for a report on British Columbia for the Engineering and Mining Journal.

Article Link — Cost-saving Systems for Open Pit Mining