Driving Technology Outside The Cab

“It’s the coolest thing to see a big piece of equipment working with no one behind the wheel,” says Ryan Goodwin, mining account manager for Finning in Elkford, B.C. Ryan worked with Teck on a remote dozer solution for operations at their Coal Mountain location. “We needed a solution for a geotechnical hazard,” says Ben David, senior engineer mining at Coal Mountain. “We were de-stabilizing a wall by removing a buttress to get the coal underneath and we couldn’t safely send an operator in on a piece of equipment to get the coal out.”

The solution? Finning installed the Cat® Command for Dozing on Teck’s D11T so it could be operated remotely to safely remove the coal. “Cat has two options available,” says Ryan. “The remote console, an over-the-shoulder hand-held unit with a controller that allows the operator to operate the dozer remotely within line-of-site. And the remote operator station, a fully enclosed trailer with a D11 seat, joysticks and pedals, similar to an actual dozer cab, and video monitors, to be run from wherever you need it, connected to the dozer via radio network. Teck used a hybrid of the two.”

A decommissioned hydraulic mining shovel was used to create the operator’s station. It was large enough to accommodate the monitors needed to get a bird’s-eye-view of the dozer via the over-head pit cameras, and provided good site lines to the equipment to operate the console remotely. “The other added feature included cameras on the dozer, also monitored from the operator’s station, giving the operator a view of both front corners, the blade and reverse mode. “The remote operator station portion also comes equipped with a microphone in the cab so you can hear the engine load up so you can get a sense of how hard it’s working,” said Ryan. The console sits on the operator’s lap and has a joystick to move the dozer and built-in sensors to automatically shut the machine down if it exceeds a certain grade. “An added safety feature is that it doesn’t matter if it’s the control unit or the actual dozer that exceeds a maximum allowable angle, the dozer automatically shuts down,” says Ryan.

From an operator’s perspective they really liked the application of the technology and the increased element of safety. “That’s the greatest benefit of the remote dozer, whether it’s an unstable high wall or side-hilling on steep banks, with the remote control application the safety risk to the operator is gone,” said Ryan. “But I also heard during the testing that since they are not operating the equipment from inside the cab, they don’t experience the same level of operator fatigue."

Watch video of Teck's remote control dozer

Following a demo in 2015, Finning was approached by Teck near the end of 2016 to install the equipment on their D11T. Installation was completed in February 2017, but there was one more step before testing began at the end of March. “As this was the first time this technology was being used in a production setting in B.C., we required a government permit from the Ministry of Energy and Mines to operate it,” said Ben. “It’s exciting because there’s a lot of opportunity and not a lot of people are doing this, not only in B.C. but anywhere in the world. This is probably one of the more aggressive uses of remote control technology. It allows us to send in a piece of equipment safely when there may be a geotechnical hazard that would be an issue for an operator in a piece of equipment.”

“This has been an incredible experience for me and the teams at Finning and Caterpillar,” adds Ryan. “I’d like to thank the Teck Coal Mountain team for the opportunity to work with them on this project, their enthusiasm for the project, helpfulness of the staff and the feedback we received was fantastic.