Coal mines as well as export and import terminals typically have extreme levels of equipment utilization. At most locations, the equipment is utilized 24/7 and waiting times create a considerable impact on the profit margin. To ensure the best interaction of the available machinery, perfect timing and a high level of co-ordination has to be realized.
To fulfill these requirements, iSAM has developed and implemented technology packages for fully automated operation of either individual equipment or — as a combination of individual systems — of entire coal handling facilities.
Autonomous grab ship-unloaders, ship and barge loaders
iSAM’s sensor and evaluation package for autonomous grab ship-unloaders and ship and barge loaders is based on an advanced collision protection system, a solution using latest 3D LiDAR and GPS technology. This system enables a control system to obtain complete information about its own position and of all other objects in the vicinity. For the first time, this ensures the effective protection of a ship-unloader boom as well as of the boom and telescopic chute of a shiploader. It also creates the foundation for remote and even fully autonomous operation by enabling the system to ‘see’ its environment and to make its own, situation-specific decisions as an operator would do. For grab ship-unloaders, the same technology is also utilized for tracking the load in real-time to allow for a safe and collision-free unloading. Smart algorithms decide for the best loading and unloading strategy focusing on an optimized material distribution to keep the ship balanced at all times.
New development
One of iSAM’s new developments is the fully autonomous coal shiploader including the use of spoon and final trim phase. The system allows for a virtual loading test, including real-world 3D LiDAR scans of the vessel to be loaded and the original machine PLC. Due to the simulated loading process, the commissioning is very efficient and therefore the loss of production is minimized.
Scalable Advanced Conveyor Load Controller (ACLC)
The scalable advanced conveyor load controller offers an optimized equipment utilization and a maximum of comfort to the operator when tracking and controlling complex blending orders in today’s busy bulk export and import terminals. The ACLC also has a hatch and train loading module to pause the material flow automatically according to the loading plan allowing the ship loader to change hatches or the train loadout to receive the next train. In fully automated mode, the individual machines will first be set to pause and then continue the material feed automatically without any operator action required. For non-automated machines, the ACLC provides the necessary information feedback to the machine operator. It represents the perfect link between individual automation solutions of the iSAM coal handling automation portfolio like the fully automated train loadout or ship loading. It helps reduce human interaction to the process to a bare minimum and hence makes it not only possible to control the entire loading process from a remote location but also to provide an unprecedented level of automation, enabling one operator to feed several ship or train loaders from multiple, blending-capable sources easily from a central control room.
Autonomous operation in ports — references
To date, iSAM has equipped seven grab ship-unloaders, six shiploaders and more than 40 stacker/reclaimers with these technology packages. Four autonomous grab ship-unloader systems are fully operational at the Port of Hamburg (Hansaport) and three systems at the Port of Rotterdam (EMO). At EMO, the automation of the grab ship-unloaders BR3/BR4 with 90-tonne coal grabs (60-tonne net capacity) has just been completed.
Two autonomous shiploader systems are fully operational, one at EMO (ship/barge loader ZB1, EMO) and one at Hansaport. iSAM has also equipped the shiploader SL3 at DBCT, Dalrymple Bay, QLD, Australia, with a 3D ship model and a full envelope collision protection. BMA Hay Point, QLD, Australia and BHP Billiton Iron Ore, Port Hedland, Australia, have the same technology package operational at ship­loaders SL1 and SL3, and SL1, respectively.
Currently iSAM is implementing the automation of stacker/reclaimer SR47 at Westshore, Roberts Bank, BC, Canada’s largest coal export terminal, as well as a 3D ship model and a full envelope collision protection for the shiploader SL2 at DBCT, Australia.
The operational and safety procedures are approved by public authorities.
About the company 
iSAM AG, Gesellschaft fuer angewandte Kybernetik, located in Muelheim an der Ruhr, Germany, develops and implements automation solutions that enable industry, commerce and service suppliers to increase their performance. iSAM’s team includes specialists from the engineering, computer science and physics sectors as well as from business economics, focusing on increasing customer value. The company’s customers can be found all over the world and in almost every industry, such as mining, bulk materials handling, transport and logistics, steel and metal manufacturing and processing, tube welding and pipeline construction, mechanical engineering and plant building, electronics and aerospace.