What is believed to be the world’s first autonomous battery-electric loader is now in operation at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Bathopele operation in Rustenburg, South Africa, thanks in part to supplier RCT.
The company said that it, working alongside a South African OEM, installed the RCT ControlMaster Automation system to the machine and delivered its Automation Centre into a surface office. The underground communications network RCT Connect was also implemented to further enhance autonomous operations and boost overall productivity at the remote operation.
“The mine is looking towards cleaner energy in pursuit of decarbonisation, and creating a safer working environment, by introducing battery electric technology onto their fleet,” said RCT’s Africa BDM Mike Thomas of the work at the platinum mine.
In addition to operator benefits, RCT said the addition of the battery-electric, hydrostatically-driven loader reduces diesel particulates underground.
“The automation system has engaged and empowered the operator and maintenance teams on site,” noted RCT ControlMaster Product Manager Paul Taylor.
“The equipment is designed to be simple to set up, allowing the work area to expand and move as required without needing an RCT presence on site to do so. In addition to this, we set up support chat groups with the team on site giving them direct contact with the RCT technician workforce. This was paired with a VPN connection to the site so we can dial in and assist with any questions that they have from anywhere in the world.”
Sibanye-Stillwater assigned two female operators to control the autonomous machine from the surface, and both have found it easy to use, the mining company confirmed.
“We view the multiple ergonomic and safety benefits of remote and autonomous operation as a significant enabler to our drive to create an inclusive operating environment that supports women in mining,” said the Bathopele mine team.
“The right partnerships are key to any successful technology initiative of this nature, and we are extremely pleased with the partnership we have with RCT in this regard. Both their offsite and onsite support ensures that we’re able to overcome challenges effectively and give the technology the best chance of success.”