Designing the hauler and loader of the future

By |  May 25, 2018

Volvo CE’s HX2 prototype. Photo courtesy of Volvo CE.

A number of analysts expect oil to reach $100-a-barrel levels this summer, meaning fuel prices will likely rise and consumers will pay more at the pump.

Fleet managers running haul trucks, excavators and loaders may feel pains tied to this in the coming months, but what if diesel fuel was a nonfactor – or a considerably smaller variable – in an operation’s bottom line?

Volvo Group representatives and customers are currently exploring questions like this. They’re also exploring the next frontier for safety, uptime, emissions and efficiency through the Volvo Concept Lab. The company provided updates about evolving technologies in the lab during a series of forward-looking presentations held in conjunction with the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race in Newport, Rhode Island. It also offered details on two projects involving innovative technologies that could someday change the nature of load and haul.

The electric site

Volvo Construction Equipment’s (Volvo CE) electric site project, for example, aims to electrify a transport stage in a quarry – from excavation to primary crushing and transport to secondary crushing. The project involves developing new machines, work methods and site management systems.

Volvo’s HX2, the autonomous, battery-electric, load carrier prototype that launched at ConExpo-Con/Agg 2017, is central to this project. An HX2 prototype was present in Newport to reinforce the company’s continued effort to bring solutions to the market that result in zero accidents, zero downtime, zero emissions and untapped efficiency.

The HX2 arrived last year on the heels of the HX1, incorporating shared technologies and components from the Volvo Group, including electric motors, batteries and power electronics. The HX2 integrates a new drivetrain and a vision system that allows the machine to detect humans and obstacles in its vicinity.

Volvo CE plans to put the HX2 to the test this September. The company partnered with Skanska, a construction company that agreed to bring a series of HX2s into one of its many quarries in Sweden for a 10-week trial.

In addition to the HX2, other prototype machines that make up the electric site system include an electric hybrid wheel loader prototype and a grid-connected excavator.

“Volvo CE is committed to pushing boundaries and exploring the technology of the future,” says Jenny Elfsberg, director of emerging technologies at Volvo CE. “The HX2 and the electric site project demonstrate how Volvo CE wants to work with its customers early in the development phase to improve total site performance and sustainability, while also saving customers money.”

According to Volvo CE representatives, each HX2 in the Skanska trial will be equipped with two batteries. For production to be feasible, HX2s will stop at a charging station during every load-and-haul cycle.

Volvo CE expects Skanska to produce about 700 tph in this system. In Skanska’s more traditional load-and-haul system, the quarry produces about 1.5 million tpy.

“We’ve promised full uptime,” says Uwe Müller, chief project manager for advanced engineering at Volvo CE. “This will provide us the [knowledge] to judge what we need to do to take the first commercial step.”

Another interesting project

Commercialization of a Volvo CE remote-control wheel loader is probably still a ways away, but the company took away some useful information from a recent project in an underground mine.

Volvo CE partnered with Boliden, a metal mining company based in Sweden, to test a remote-control loader in a real-world setting. The benefit of utilizing remote-control technology is enhanced safety.

Volvo CE’s Erik Uhlin

“Volvo has a mission to achieve zero accidents with Volvo products,” says Erik Uhlin, engineering project manager at Volvo CE. “The best way to do this is to take the operator away from the dangerous environment where accidents would occur. That’s one way to mitigate the problem.”

Fredrik Kauma, project manager at Boliden, agrees.

“The mine is dark and damp,” he says. “If you can move the operator out of the wheel loader and put them in an office environment on the surface, it’s a big change in environment for the operator.”

But can the operator of a remote-control wheel loader be as efficient as an operator who’s positioned within a loader cab? In the Boliden project, Volvo CE says the operator of the remote-control loader reached about 80 percent efficiency within an hour’s time.

“There’s a steep learning curve for this system,” Uhlin says.

Kauma concurs.

“Our operators were not able to be as efficient as being in the cab,” he says. “It’s not [offering] the same feedback to the operator sitting in a remote-control station. There are so many inputs that may be a bit difficult to quantify.”

One specific challenge the Boliden operator encountered was filling the bucket. Tipping the bucket on a truck was somewhat challenging because the operator was eyeballing cameras.

Streaming video in real time from the underground mine was another challenge.

“For an operator to handle the machine in an efficient way, the delay has to be minimal,” Uhlin says. “If the delay is too large, it’s going to be difficult. With the delay, you lose predictability.”

Another tidbit Volvo CE and Boliden learned: Because the operator was removed from the cab, he lost the feeling of how hard he was pushing the machine.

“In some cases you could say the operator is abusing the machine,” Uhlin says. “So we need some kind of mechanism that lets the operator know to tune it down a bit.”

Another potential next step for remote-control loaders involves the design. Should a remote-control wheel loader “look” the same as a conventional wheel loader?

“What happens if we take the cab away,” Uhlin says. “That will help bridge the efficiency gap and get to 100 percent efficiency.”

Kauma, for one, is excited about the possibilities remote-control technology could eventually offer the market.

“We believe this will be commercially viable,” Kauma says. “I spoke to the mine manager where we performed these mine tests, and he asked when will these loaders be available for sale?”

Like Kauma, Uhlin describes the Boliden project as a success.

“We think remote control is part of the construction equipment future,” Uhlin says. “We think it is going to be one way to achieve zero accidents.”

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