An inside look at Caterpillar's MineStar technology
It’s a tough time for the mining industry. The commodities sector continues to struggle with unstable prices, casting uncertainty across an industry whose fate is tied to the materials it extracts.
It’s an unfortunate setting, but for equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc., necessity continues to be the mother of innovation.
The U.S.-based equipment manufacturer has formulated Cat MineStar™—a comprehensive suite of mining technology products to contest the volatile environment companies face. Cat’s brainchild enables miners to configure technologies to fit their needs, providing everything from material tracking to sophisticated real-time fleet management, machine health systems, autonomous equipment systems and more.
Simply put, MineStar™ is designed for mine operations and equipment management. The system is comprised of five configurable features -- Fleet, Terrain, Detection, Health and Command -- that have the ability to enhance mine site safety, reduce costs, improve profitability and boost efficiency.
Fleet provides an array of services from real-time machine tracking to assignment and productivity management. Fleet enhances the management of all types of equipment operations, across one or multiple mine sites, as well as enabling fleets to share data and information with other electronic mine management systems.
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Terrain is a powerful tool that enables high precision management of drilling, dragline, grading and loading operations through the use of guidance technology. With in-cab display, Terrain provides operators with exact position of their machine within its work zone, including work to be done and completed work, as well as highlighting avoidance zones.
Detect is designed to improve safety. Using a combination of radars, cameras and an in-cab display, Detect provides equipment operators with enhanced awareness of its immediate environment, including manned or remotely controlled equipment, for increased site safety. The Detect system also has a range of additional capabilities to fit each and every site’s needs.
Health includes comprehensive health equipment and asset monitoring capabilities to deliver critical event-based machine conditions and operating data for the entire fleet. The objective for Health is to identify potential equipment problems before failure, minimizing unscheduled downtime and productivity loss. Health also goes beyond just equipment health, providing problem areas within the mine site itself to generate reports showing where health and operational alerts occur.
Command is the next phase in mining automation. It provides various levels of operator control from remote control, semi-autonomous and fully autonomous systems for surface and underground mobile mining equipment. By integrating Fleet, Terrain, Detect and Health, the innovative system is designed to deliver dramatic improvements in safety, productivity and availability during operations.
Adding value to MineStar™
Earlier this year, Caterpillar made a minority investment in Uptake to jointly develop an end-to-end platform for “predictive diagnostics” to help customers monitor and optimize their fleets more effectively. The idea is to take the mountains of data spewing from Cat’s equipment and turn it into meaningful information that can help customers catch potential maintenance issues before breakdowns occur, minimizing downtime.
“In the early days, we looked at autonomy for just trucks. Now, we look at mining systems and integrating autonomous technology through the entire mining operation process—from planning to reclamation,” said Ed Rapp, group president for Resource Industries at Caterpillar Inc.
“The partnership with Uptake will do two things: Take our data analytics from our machines and take it to another level. It will also take the data and integrate it into the work flow. Uptake has a lot of experience in this. It will not only predict potential failures but it will initiate the work flow to ensure action is taking place.”
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According to Doug Oberhelman, chairman and CEO of Caterpillar, the partnership will combine Caterpillar's world-class product engineering and design expertise with Uptake's software, application and data analytics expertise.
“As a result, we'll be able to transform the quintillion bytes of incoming data we see every day into useful information we feed back to our customers for on-the-spot decisions and planning purposes to further reduce owning and operating costs.”
“We'll build a platform to bring the next generation of our technology services and products to market sooner, and will act as a springboard for years of development after that. We want to empower our customers with the insight necessary to shift from a reactive ’repair after failure’ mode to a proactive ’repair before failure’ stance.”
The purpose of MineStar™ is to enable companies to improve operations by simultaneously reducing costs while enhancing safety. To effectively do so, as well as meet the needs of their customers, Caterpillar strives for continuous improvements.
In May, Caterpillar invited its customers and dealers to Tucson, Arizona to learn more about their MineStar™ technology and how it can improve operations for them.
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According to Rapp, one of the purposes of the conference is to gain first-hand feedback from customers on MineStar™, and assess how they can improve to meet the needs of their customers.
“For me, it's real simple: we need to be driven by customers each and every day. Conferences like this are our opportunity to get first-hand feedback from customers to hear about the things customers like about the technology, or the things they don't like.”
Rapp added, “Customer feedback provides two things: it points you in the right direction, and it provides collaboration. If you can sit down with an individual customer and talk about their issues, they may give you a narrow view. However, if they can listen to someone in a similar application, a similar challenge, it opens their minds up in terms of the possibilities. I think we get the best input when we put multiple users together and let them collaborate.”
“Our conferences get the highest level of participation when mining has been at its most depressed level. It tells you they see value in this industry, and so do we,” concluded Rapp.
For Caterpillar, necessity remains the mother of all invention. That mentality hasn’t changed. For the last 90 years Caterpillar Inc. has been making sustainable progress possible while driving positive change on every continent. With MineStar™ at the helm, the equipment manufacturer is primed to make it another 90.