AARP demonstrates user, collaboration credentials

Visitors to the Australian Automation and Robotics Precinct (AARP) north of Perth in Western Australia have got a glimpse at the calibre of user drawn to the world-class facility, and its powerful collaborative vision, during a demonstration session attended by senior members of the Global Mining Guidelines Group.

Published on on 4 September, 2023

Demonstrations and briefings by international mining technology leaders, Imdex and RCT Global, and promising start-ups, Hermes and Soteria, and Metal Gear Industries, were highlights of the session.

RCT, an advanced mining machine control and automation firm based in Perth, saw opportunities to speed product development cycles through “in-field” interaction with customers and amongst its engineers at the site not far from its headquarters, head of product management, Brendon Cullen told the gathering.

The company, which has its machine-agnostic control and automation systems working on about 1000 different mining vehicles around the world, is using the unique AARP Dirt Lab to showcase its ControlMaster tech on a Polaris battery-electric ATV and Caterpillar R1300 underground loader. RCT has previously used the ATV to demonstrate how its technology integrates with an EV.

“We can put the Polaris through its paces and test scenarios and access data without having to access a mine [and] testing on a compact vehicle is a lot more beneficial for our workflow,” Cullen says.

He said at the AARP this week: “I think the ability to access the testing facilities is going to be fantastic for us. It really hastens that development cycle, particularly the people that are working in the back-end who can get onto the machines and see the application to a certain extent.

“In the past we have had an area in Kalgoorlie, so we’ve been flying our guys back and forward to Kalgoorlie to do our testing. So having a facility like this, 40 minutes from our head office, is perfect .”

RCT was sharing the Dirt Lab, a six-hectare equipment test bed within the 51-hectare precinct, with Imdex, which recently signed on as AARP’s first major industry partner. The company has its proprietary BlastDog robotic drill-hole sensing and logging unit at the site

“We can’t understate the collaborative effect [of the AARP environment],” Cullen said.

“I think really that’s the power of a place like this. You can actually see what’s going on in other parts of the industry and understand where each player fits and how you might help each other achieve more through collaboration.”

Imdex senior scientist Fred Blaine agreed: “For us, being able to rapidly test and iterate at a site like this, 30 minutes away from the [head] office, is important. It is not always easy to get on a [mine] site. I think being able to see first hand what else is coming along through the industry development pipeline, and potentially for new projects as well, can open up collaboration opportunities.”

Hermes and Soteria CEO Gus Elliot suggested concentrating world-class technology, and technology leaders, at a readily accessible research and test site could be a game-changer.

“Just seeing some of the tech that’s here … It’s far more than we would experience at a remote mine site location where there is a reluctance to change anything until they’ve [bought] the technology,” he said.

“Who knows what’s possible? That’s the exciting bit.”

Hermes and Soteria has developed and is piloting at several sites a unique tailings management facility ground probe and reporting platform to address an urgent industry need for proactive monitoring of tailings dams.

“It’s awesome to be able to demonstrate what we’ve been developing for the last nine months and to have this environment where … anyone who is going to be using our product can see it working without having to get access to a [mine] site.”

Brad Craddock, director of Metal Gear Industries, had several of his creations on hand at the AARP.

“I’ve been doing prototypes for customers for about 15 years and during that time I’ve also worked for a few companies on their robotics projects. Robotic hardware development is always seen as slow and expensive, so for the last few years I’ve been investigating ways to make robotic hardware development faster and cheaper.

“It can be difficult for a small company to find the right people to talk to at a bigger company. If I can see them [here] on another test bed, it’s going to be a lot easier to make that connection.”

Work is underway on a new, 1200sq.m headquarters and common user facility at the A$28 million AARP.

AARP national project lead Tamryn Barker said the facility was designed with input from likely users including industry innovators and start-ups, SMEs, industry operators, and universities and government agencies.

“It’s a development and R&D space in the first instance, so really there to help support commercialising activities … to bring a technology to life and to iterate it as well,” she said.

“We will see it grow over time as a training and learning space, and become a facility for PhD students, high school students and also researchers to be able to connect with industry and to bring applied research to life as well.

“Of course, it’s also a lovely big space to be able to showcase your technology and to bring people together.

“We are hearing a lot about technology today, but what we want to build here is a peer group of innovators in industry.

“It’s very much about bringing people together and learning and improving and making this a world class facility for global users as well as our local users.”