Interoperable approach to autonomy – what does it mean?

By | 2019-06-12T09:04:10+00:00 June 12th, 2019|

By Tarren Bolton | Images by Hitachi

Hitachi Construction Machinery (HCM) is pleased to announce its vision for autonomous mining – an open, interoperable ecosystem of partners that integrate their systems alongside existing mine infrastructure.

Grounded in support for International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and a drive to encourage new entrants into the mining industry, Hitachi is pioneering this open and interoperable approach to autonomy among global mining technology leaders. HCM declares its support for standards-based autonomy and is offering its interoperable technology to assist mining customers to integrate new vendors into their existing infrastructure. HCM’s support for open, interoperable autonomy is based on its philosophy for its partner-focused Solution Linkage platform.

What is Solution Linkage?

Phrases like ‘interoperable ecosystems’ and ‘autonomous mining’ are enough to make anyone’s head spin. Talk of 4IR, the Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and what it means for the future of operations, while fascinating and pertinent, is often hard to comprehend. But there’s no getting away from the fact that it is the future of mining operations – in fact, it’s already happening.

The HCM Group is developing this open autonomy approach under the Solution Linkage initiative, a platform already available to Hitachi’s customers in the construction industry. It is now available to mining customers with support from HCM subsidiary, Wenco International Mining Systems (Wenco). Solution Linkage is a standards-based platform grounded on three principles: open innovation, interoperability and partner ecosystem.

Open innovation

Hitachi has developed its technology using open standards, as well as a focus on interoperability. This allows Hitachi and its subsidiary Wenco, to more easily integrate with other third-party technology vendors to create a more complete solution for customers.

For example, with autonomous mining, Hitachi is providing executive resources to help develop an ISO standard-based interface between autonomy vendors and customers’ existing Fleet Management Systems. This isn’t to just allow Hitachi AHS vehicles to integrate with customer operations, but other vendors as well, particularly vendors that have autonomous technology but are may be new to mining.

To explain this further, and even before this ISO standard becomes available, Hitachi is leveraging the open and interoperable technology from Wenco to help third party autonomous haulage trucks integrate into a major global mining company’s existing Fleet Management System (FMS) and operations, even though neither the autonomous vehicles nor the FMS system is from Hitachi or Wenco. This allows the customer to choose whatever solutions it prefers without being restricted by closed stack OEM approaches; it also provides a future-proof way to introduce new vendor technology into their operations as they deem necessary.

Hitachi has developed its technology using open standards, as well as a focus on interoperability.”

This open approach also provides multi-vendor examples for data intelligence and IIoT. Hitachi can integrate its operational technology such as excavators, haul trucks, Wenco Fleet Management Systems, ReadyLine and other interoperable technologies with third party IoT data intelligence technologies that the customer may be working with, such as AI vendors or analytics platforms. For maintenance and asset health, for example, Hitachi-Wenco’s ReadyLine technology can take real time sensor information from multiple OEM mobile equipment, share that data with value-add asset health vendors and bring in additional AI vendors as the customer sees fit.

Hitachi is currently designing these type of solutions and will, over time, make these autonomy and IIoT Data customers public on timelines chosen by its customers.
So, exactly what are the benefits of the HCM system? They become evident when compared with other autonomy OEM vendors that require customers to use the FMS system that works only with their AHS vehicle, which means a customer has to implement and learn a separate FMS system every time they choose one of these vendors. This means that the customer is ‘locked in’ to only the FMS and AHS control system that that OEM vendor uses – even if they already have another FMS system in operation.

This only benefits the vendor and not the customer. The vendor, as it develops its autonomy technology, it only has to test and integrate with its orchestration and FMS system. It is convenient from the OEM’s development perspective but forces the customer to pay for and learn new systems, as well as integrate their operations with those systems. This makes life less complicated for the OEM and very complicated (and expensive) for the customer.

HCM Group’s key capability of interoperability creates simplified connectivity between systems to reduce operational silos, enabling end-to-end visibility and control across the mining value chain.

HCM Group’s key capability of interoperability creates simplified connectivity between systems to reduce operational silos, enabling end-to-end visibility and control across the mining value chain.

Interoperability

To properly understand the concept of interoperability, we need to look at what is currently happening in mining. Every mine operator and C-level executive needs more data to understand and improve their operations. Unfortunately, data intelligence and reporting is usually isolated to discreet silos of operations.

Planning, for example, has their systems and reporting processes, pit operations has data for their myriad of equipment with each reporting on their status. Perhaps, if they’re lucky, pit operations can consolidate their silo of operations data for reporting. The plant has systems that report on their performance and the transportation system also does so. But unfortunately, all these reporting systems occur in isolation, and independent of one another, so if the customer wants the ‘big picture’ of how planning, operations, plant, transport and all systems from ‘pit to port’ are performing, it’s an integration nightmare because these systems don’t talk to each other, and it is a major effort to integrate them.

This is where Hitachi-Wenco, comes in. They design systems to be interoperable from the start and make it easier to allow operations or data systems to connect with each other, so customers can plan and track more easily.

To put it simply, HCM Group’s key capability of interoperability creates simplified connectivity between systems to reduce operational silos, enabling end-to-end visibility and control across the mining value chain. Customers using Solution Linkage can connect autonomous equipment from multiple vendors into existing fleet management and operations infrastructure. Interoperability also affords mines a systems-level understanding of their pit-to-port operation, providing access to more robust data analytics and process management. This capability enables mine management to make superior decisions based on operation-wide insight that delivers end-to-end optimisation.

Partner ecosystem

HCM’s open autonomy approach rests on creating a partner ecosystem in which customers and third-party partners can leverage HCM’s experience and open platform to successfully provide autonomous functionality and reduce the risk of technological adoption. This initiative is already working with a global mining leader to integrate non-mining OEM autonomous vehicles into its existing mining infrastructure.

Hitachi says that the AHS vendor is not one of the ‘Big 3’ and does not use their smaller autonomous haul trucks in mining. The customer is a Tier 1 that does work with the major OEM autonomy providers but wants to try new vendors, particularly for smaller vehicles. Hitachi-Wenco allows the customer to do this by leveraging Wencomine FMS technology as an integration point between the third-party AHS vendor and the customer.

HCM is looking for customer and vendor partnerships to further extend the value of this open, interoperable platform. If autonomy vendors have already been selected by a customer and are struggling to integrate into the client’s existing fleet management system or mine operations, Hitachi may be able to help using the Solution Linkage platform.