Fuel. It’s the most significant variable expense on a mine site and a primary focus for cost-control efforts. With a large fleet of powerful machines to feed, realizing even a small improvement in fuel efficiency per machine can add up to major dollar savings over the course of a year.
Caterpillar’s Application Specialist, Sedric Waguespack, predicts that reducing fuel usage will always be a top priority. “Even when there’s a break in the global price of oil,” he says, “You always know that what goes down must come back up. That’s why we built a range of fuel monitoring and management technologies into Cat® MineStar™, especially into Cat Fleet.”
As its name suggests, Cat Fleet is the fleet management capability set within the broader Cat MineStar suite of technologies. It offers comprehensive operational overview capabilities, while allowing managers to drill down into details about specific tasks, machine groups and individual machines.
“As far as fuel is concerned,” Sedric says, “The most obvious management capability in Cat Fleet is the Fueling schedule feature. It sends trucks to get fuel only when they need it, rather than on a fixed schedule.”
That can have a huge impact because, as Sedric explains, “We’ve seen operations that bring machines in with their tanks as much as 65% full. That makes for a lot of extra trips to the fueling station and a lot of wasted diesel.”
The Cat Fleet Fueling system also manages queues at fueling stations to prevent excessive wait times. Sedric notes, “When you have trucks waiting to fill up, they’re burning fuel without doing any work. That’s not what you want.”
“The same thing goes for trucks queuing at loading tools. Cat Fleet’s Assignment & Optimization functions reduce queuing by streamlining truck assignments.”
Plus, Sedric says, “Fleet gathers and analyzes site-specific information, such as road network data and blending requirements, to provide the best possible assignment for each machine. Optimum truck routing not only minimizes queue times, but it also increases production and reduces travel times, which both impact total fuel usage. It even takes into consideration operator and equipment performance, road conditions and weather to make assignment changes on the fly.”
He adds, “It’s amazing what a difference a few assignment adjustments can make to the overall efficiency of a mine site. It’s equally amazing how much of a negative impact that seemingly small things—like flaws in haul road design or poor road maintenance—can have on total fuel burn.”
To help spot and correct haul road problems, Cat Fleet includes Position & Material functions that analyze actual truck travel times and the site travel network to identify problematic road segments.
“It works using satellite navigation data,” Sedric says. “The system plots precisely where machine events occur. Maybe there’s a soft spot in a haul road that causes a strut pressure spike or a sudden grade change that results in high brake temperatures. Cat Fleet can locate precisely where those events happen, which helps you refine the haul roads so your trucks can run more smoothly and efficiently.”
In the same way, Sedric adds, Cat Fleet can spot poor operating practices that result in excessive fuel burn. “Running in the wrong gear, overspeeding the engine—there are lots of ways operators can affect fuel efficiency. Cat Fleet gives you the visibility to see which operators could use some additional training.”
The system helps to manage human factors outside of the machine cab as well. Sedric explains, “Cat Fleet has a Shift Change Optimization function that improves productivity during the first and last hour of a shift. To help save fuel, it can assign trucks to specified tie-down destinations out on the site—close to where they’re working—rather than bringing them all into a central location.
“Because you know exactly where the machines are, based on their GPS locations, you can have a light vehicle run several operators at once out to their machines. That’s a lot more fuel-savvy than bringing in one operator at a time aboard a big haul truck.”
Reducing fuel usage is just one of the benefits of using Cat Fleet. “There are lots of rewards for putting a good mine management technology system to work,” Sedric says, “But watching your fuel bills go down is one of the best things for a mine manager. It makes those monthly budget review meetings a little less stressful.”