Are you ready for the brave new world of aggregates mining?

Therese Dunphy

January 23, 2017

As we turn the page on 2016, it’s time to reflect on all the new year has to offer. By all accounts, 2017 should be a banner year for the aggregate industry. President-elect Donald J. Trump has made infrastructure a priority for his burgeoning administration. Operators who responded to the Aggregates Manager 2016-2017 Forecast Survey predicted the best business conditions in 13 years of forecasts (see page 14). And, technology and automation are moving at a rapid-fire pace. The future truly is now.

Throughout this issue, you’ll get a glimpse at some of these innovations and learn how they are being used. For example, remote control technology and autonomous machines are featured in this month’s Operations Illustrated (page 21). For an even more futuristic look, check out this month’s Technology feature (page 26). We were the only aggregate magazine to have an editor attend Volvo’s Xploration Forum in Eskilstuna, Sweden, last fall to view prototypes of hybrid loaders and autonomous haulers. Editorial Director Marcia Gruver Doyle highlights the company’s work on a $30 million project to create an electrified quarry. The result could be an operation that not only cuts carbon emissions, but also operating costs.

At a recent press event, I had the chance to see how some equipment innovations are being developed so quickly. Caterpillar gave industry editors a taste of its virtual reality (VR) demonstrator with a walkthrough of a D6 dozer. Using a VR headset and a handheld wand, a user can cut through the machine to get a tech-based look under the hood.

The demonstrator made for a buzzworthy press event, but it has much more utility for the equipment development team. Before the use of virtual reality, engineering teams may have multiple ideas on how to approach an equipment design, but would have to vote on one and build it as a prototype.

“It cost a lot of time and money,” says Dave Cooper, a design visualization steward with Cat’s Immersive Visualization Department. “Now, we can build all of them — virtually — and put the expert operators in the seat to make sure it meets an operator’s needs, not an engineer’s.”

While the demonstrator is new, Cooper explains that Cat has been using VR for more than 20 years. It allows the engineering team to not only test multiple design ideas, but also enables mechanics to look at a machine’s serviceability and customers to provide feedback before a physical prototype is built.

“The design process is similar, but evaluating it is new because we don’t have to build a physical prototype (as soon), and we can make minute changes as we go. It allows you to tune and refine continuously,” he says, noting the result is a better design with a shorter lead time.

As I wore the headset and worked my way through the D6’s engine and inner workings, I was reminded of an Aldous Huxley line in his novel, Brave New World: “Words can be like X-rays. If you use them properly, they’ll go through anything.” I hope our words help give you insight into what is indeed a brave new world.

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