Operational efficiencies at mines can be obtained in any number of ways, but rarely does there come an opportunity to save not just hours, but days, in a given year thanks to a relatively small change in operational procedure. The advantages are, of course, multiplied when that efficiency also equates to a significant cost savings for the mine.

A complex in the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, recently realized significant improvements by automating its truck refueling procedures for its ultra-class fleet of 34 Caterpillar 797s, 13 Cat 793s and 14 Komatsu 930Es with the help of Wenco and its Fuel Dispatch system.

Fuel levels prior to the implementation of Wenco’s Fuel Dispatch.

Inside the system’s scheduler.Inside the system’s scheduler.

Wenco and Fuel Dispatch

Wenco, a subsidiary of Hitachi Construction Machinery and headquartered in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, first announced its Dynamic Fuel Dispatch system for fuel efficiencies in mid-2014 to a receptive audience that was seeking both conventional and unconventional ways to save time, money and resources.

Specifically, Fuel Dispatch assesses current fuel levels in an active haul truck, then calculates each machine’s remaining fuel time using an algorithm that includes data from the unit’s model, status, and its uphill and downhill travel.

Vehicles with OEM fuel monitors, such as the Caterpillar 797s, have the option of polling these systems to determine the fuel hours remaining, and Wenco Fuel Dispatch also has the ability to integrate with OmniComm fuel sensors as well for sites that utilize them.

Once the system determines the unit’s remaining fuel hours, it checks results against the system’s preconfigured thresholds for fuel dispatching; two figures are maintained, a suggested threshold and a critical threshold.

Fuel Dispatch, once at the suggested level, creates an event that dispatchers can see in the Wenco mine eventing system Event Monitor, alerting that there is a truck that is a candidate for fueling; additionally, the next time that truck exits a dump location, it can receive a dispatch assignment for refueling, and once at critical levels, an immediate alert will signal with the assignment of the machine to a refueling station as soon as it exits its dump location.

Fuel Dispatch, now with a candidate on log, will search the mine for available fuel locations that are preconfigured into the system via Wenco’s Fleet Control.

“Dispatchers use this application to assign new fuel locations — either stationary fuel bays or specific locations for a mobile fuel trucks,” Wenco dispatch team leader Andrea Blazenko said, adding that the oil sands regional client used only stationary fuel bays.

Wenco notes the fuel levels at fuel times after Fuel Dispatch was implemented.Wenco notes the fuel levels at fuel times after Fuel Dispatch was implemented.

Smaller Changes Create Big Impacts

It goes without saying that fuel is expensive — and any surface mine operator will quickly admit that refueling operations is a significant cost on its daily balance sheet.

“It’s not just the fuel being a large expense, but an inefficient fueling operation can lead to a decrease in availability of important mining equipment,” said Blazenko. “[This] can significantly alter a mine’s overall production.”

Mines that do not possess an efficient refueling operation are spending much more money and time than they need to, primarily due to removal of equipment from production to refuel too often (whether or not that refueling is done on a set time schedule) and possibly even refueling without knowing the current fuel levels of the machine — particularly with machines that do not possess an OEM-installed sensor. Additionally, unnecessary man-hours are spent fueling equipment when it’s not needed.