The MacLean digital twin takes shape

When you participate in enough mining conferences, certain themes get lots of airtime but there’s usually a major lag between tradeshow appearances and mine site appearances. Such is the nature of the underground mining industry where the introduction of new technology invariably has to navigate some combination of a logistical, technical, cost, safety, and cultural hurdle obstacle course. 

But of course, change happens, even in underground mining. Case in point is the switch to battery electrification on mobile fleets, to eliminate diesel fine particulate matter in the underground environment and get the added benefits of reduced ventilation and lower maintenance requirements. 

Electrification of mining was the buzz at the last MINExpo in 2016 and now that we’re coming up fast on the next instalment in September 2020, EV mining seems like old news. The question is no longer ‘if’ underground mining will transition to battery electric mining vehicles, even large haul trucks and scoops, it’s just a question of how fast it will happen. With the all-electric Borden project now in production, and Glencore’s Onaping Depth in its initial construction phase, the diesel-free mine of the future is already here. 

When it comes to autonomous operations underground, open pit mines have already made significant progress in this area with haulage trucks. In the underground mining world, self-driving scoops have been introduced successfully. The current industry focus is managing overall traffic flow for the traditional fleet (operator-controlled tramming) and the next step is traffic management for an autonomously tramming fleet of mining vehicles, from different OEMs. Then going beyond tramming to extend autonomous operations to the application end of production support mining vehicles across the mining cycle – mobile equipment like bolters, sprayers, water cannons, rockbreakers and secondary reduction drills that currently require an operator working in a cab or on a deck under protected ground. 

The third pillar of mining innovation after electrification and automation that gets similar airing at shows is the promise of digitalization. On that front, the creation of a digital twin for every Maclean mining vehicle is the strategic direction we’ve set for ourselves over the past number of years. We are now at a point now in our product development evolution where we can share some real progress. On the real-time analytics front, we have a purpose-built vehicle monitoring system on our 15-unit fleet of battery electric vehicles at Borden Gold in northern Ontario. This system streams real-time performance data (both tramming and application) to the cloud for remote analysis and better decision making for maintenance and operations personnel at site. 

This MacLean IntelliOp VMS package consists of sensors and display screens installed on each unit, supported by analytics software that distills vehicle performance data based on an OEM-level of product design knowledge. IntelliOp presents actionable data and provides prompts on the in-cab screen so that it offers up immediate benefits with regard to operator performance. It also clears away the background noise of vehicle health telemetry by presenting this data in a way that enables predictive maintenance decision making, not bring about decision overwhelm. 

We’re also taking the leap to a cloud-based documentation platform for parts books and parts ordering as well as technical manuals. This is an online environment that provides a high level of offline functionality, and where almost real-time downloaded PDFs can be created easily and quickly. 

Our new ‘Documoto’ parts ordering portal will have the look and feel of a best-in-class consumer retail experience. Plus, we’re able to layer on a library of training content, for example ‘how-to’ videos that we think will be of great help to our customer base. Going forward, we’re going to build this content out with training videos shot in our test mine. 

And speaking of training, a great example of the MacLean digital twin philosophy taking shape is our development of a virtual reality (VR) bolter that offers up a digital simulation of a bolter environment within a headset. It’s easy to transport and the technology is well known and well-liked by the coming generation of underground miners who are growing up with this type of technology as part of their day-to-day. 

The MacLean digital twin is indeed taking shape and, we’re just getting started. Next up will be connecting our real-time vehicle performance data and the cloud-based parts book and technical manuals repository with each unit’s maintenance history. The scenario is a mine’s service technician showing up at a piece of mining equipment, with a tablet that can instantly get a picture of the work that has been done to that unit, along with predictive maintenance suggestions – maintenance tasks and parts. This is just one example of how the rollout of the digital twin, if done right, could make a practical difference in underground mining. That’s why we’re devoting resources to pushing forward in this area.For more information: Stuart Lister  
Vice President​ of Marketing & Communications
MacLean Engineering​​
705-241-3247 (c​)


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