Outside-the-box equipment design

By |  June 4, 2018

Volvo CE’s HX2 prototype outside the Newport Marriott. Photo by Kevin Yanik.

The “winter orchid green”-colored contraption sat along the road in front of the Newport Marriott, and any passersby had to wonder what it was they were looking at.

One way to describe the contraption to a layman: It’s a window into the future. Specifically, the HX2 autonomous hauler prototype, which Volvo CE displayed during the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race in Newport, Rhode Island, represents change that’s likely to come – sooner than later – to industries like ours.

Consider some of the key equipment – crushers, screens, excavators, loaders – that is fundamental to your operation. The basic design of these has not dramatically altered over the course of the last 100 years. The jaw crusher of the 21st century still possesses many of the same design characteristics as its predecessor. The same goes for other equipment.

Those who develop the crusher or loader of the future will draw up models that build in core design elements from existing equipment. But in our lifetimes, the most drastic design changes to key equipment may still be to come.

The HX2 prototype is an example of bridging the future with the past. There are elements of this autonomous, battery-electric load carrier that resemble modern haul trucks. A dump body remains central to the design and tires are essential to the HX2’s mobility. But the cab is peeled away from the HX2, giving it a look that’s somewhat unrecognizable to the layman.

Digging deeper

What about the loader of the future? Could it be a cabless machine? Based on details Volvo CE representatives shared in Newport about a test project involving remote-control technology, the loader of the future might indeed be cabless.

Through the Volvo Concept Lab, Volvo CE partnered with an underground mining company in Sweden to test a remote-control loader in a real-world setting. With the goal of creating an accident-free work environment, Volvo CE considered this quick trial a success. The loader operator, in this case, reached about 80 percent efficiency following an hour of training.

The companies encountered a few challenges along the way, too. Filling and tipping a bucket were more difficult because the operator had to eyeball cameras in a remote station. A slight delay in the video stream presented a potential issue, as well, and the companies involved learned that some sort of mechanism is necessary to give operators a “feel” for how hard they’re pushing the loader.

Another question to explore: What happens if the cab is removed? As one Volvo CE rep describes, removing the cab would help bridge the gap toward 100 percent efficiency.

The Volvo Group, of course, isn’t the only mobile equipment company exploring new possibilities. The company is, however, arguably the most transparent in sharing its research and findings with the industries it serves.

It’s certainly exciting to think about the next wave of technology, let alone see one company’s vision of the future sitting roadside outside a Rhode Island hotel.

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