UK-first quarry autonomous innovation unveiled in Devon

Today saw the official UK launch of an autonomous ADT designed to help future-proof the effectiveness and competitiveness of quarrying operations within the minerals and aggregates industry.
Loading, Hauling & Excavation / March 14, 2024
By Guy Woodford
Autonomous ADTs are designed to help future-proof the effectiveness and competitiveness of quarrying operations within the minerals and aggregates industry. Pic: Chepstow Plant International/Sibelco/Bell Equipment/xtonomy

The development of autonomous driving capability opens the door to a range of operational efficiency, safety, environmental, and employee benefits that will underpin the sector in the future.

Chepstow Plant Plant International (CPI) and Bell Equipment initially conceptualised the UK-first project following long-term trials between Bell Equipment and technology platform specialist xtonomy.

Technology platform specialist xtonomy is playing a central role in the deployment of autonomous ADTs. Pic: xtonomy

CPI identified Sibelco, a long-term valued strategic customer, as the ideal partner to bring the project to reality in a live-working quarry environment. Collectively, the four key stakeholders have collaborated to develop and launch an innovative quarry transportation proposition that has its eyes on the future.  

The venture's launch event was held at Sibelco’s china-clay Cornwood quarry in Devon, southwest England. Key industry guests were invited to witness a full demonstration of the new autonomous solution in a working quarry setting.

Interactive presentations highlighted innovative onboard hardware and software technologies, including robust radar sensors, high-precision GPS, multi-channel communication systems and onboard processing hardware. Economy has incorporated them into a standard B40E dump truck to create an autonomous-ready drive-by-wire B40E solution.

As a result, the combination offers true and safe autonomy with a resilient navigation system that dynamically plans ADT paths and predictively controls the vehicle around the entire quarry site.

Among the key objectives of this pilot scheme will be to demonstrate the potential to reduce vehicular incidents and subsequent accidents as well as upskill the existing workforce to further support the future of quarry operations.

Operational efficiencies will be enhanced as the autonomous ADTs can operate for longer periods during the working day, deliver highly accurate tipping results, and ensure that the existing quarry shift patterns can be tailored to improve productivity. Further benefits will be available thanks to improved component life and reduced wear and tear on the Bell B40E dump truck, leading to improved asset availability for the quarry.

The Bell B40E dump truck features an autonomous-ready drive-by-wire solution. Pic: Bell Equipment/Sibelco/Chepstow Plant International/xtonomy

Environmental advantages will also be leveraged through the AI-enabled transformation. With enhanced driving accuracy and efficiency across the quarry, less fuel will be consumed, helping to ensure reductions in carbon emissions damage because of a quarry’s daily activities.

To further enhance the autonomous ADTs impact on the environment, the Bell B40E uses HVO instead of diesel. This pushes the machine to be as near ‘carbon-neutral’ as possible within the quarry and mining sector.

John Corcoran, managing director at Chepstow Plant International, said: “CPI is delighted to be involved in this exciting and UK-first collaboration, one focused on a next-generation adventure to ensure UK quarries continue to maximise operational efficiencies and remain competitive. It is important that stakeholders come together in this way to drive advancements and support the industry’s prospects whilst continually remaining committed to our safety standards and Net-Zero commitments.

“We are sure that this Pilot project will deliver progress and further challenges, both of which will provide the pathway towards the ultimate goal.”

Ben Uphill, director of operations - Kingsteignton Cluster at quarry-owner Sibelco, said: “We envisage many benefits from having access to this sector-first autonomous ADT solution. The minerals & aggregates sector must embrace technology to continually deliver improvements across our daily operations and cost base. At Sibelco, we strive for continuous improvement, focusing on safety and the environment through energy efficiency and CO2 reduction. Automation is used in many parts of our operations and business to maximise efficiency and manage skills shortages. This has been a fantastic example of collaborative ethos from all partners and has resulted in a safe and productive autonomous driving setup for a key part of our operations.”

Feeding material into the Bell B40E autonomous ADT at Sibelco’s china-clay Cornwood quarry in Devon. Pic: Bell Equipment/Sibelco/Chepstow Plant International/xtonomy

Nic Grout, managing director at Bell Equipment, said: “Bell Equipment is a leading supplier in the ADT market and, as such, is proud to be part of this exciting project. Its success can help transform the future of the quarrying sector, and we are pleased that our evolutionary E-series and the B40E dump truck sit at the heart of this innovative project. The ability to transform our market-leading vehicle through added technology functionality into a safe, robust, effective, and autonomous quarrying asset is welcome and sets the standard for future developments across our vehicle range.”

Dr Christian Riedel, CEO at xtonomy, said: “Supporting the quarrying sector through the appliance of result-orientated automation platform solutions is a key commitment for the business. Expectations and needs are changing as the industry looks to transition to a future where improved efficiency, better safety, and targeted environmental considerations are key priorities. Our AI technology incorporated onto the already successful Bell B40E dump truck evolves it to a next-generation payload transportation blueprint.”

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