Caterpillar drives innovative solutions for boosting mining equipment operator performance

Caterpillar challenged hackathon participants to propose innovative ways to use telematics data and real-time coaching to improve surface mining truck operator performance.

Software developers, data scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs recently convened in San Francisco for a 54-hour hackathon sponsored by Caterpillar and Unearthed, an Australia-based open innovation organisation for the global resources sector. The hackathon format brought together creative problem solvers and industry experts who work in teams under intense time pressure to propose prototype solutions to industry challenges.

“Caterpillar is pleased to sponsor Unearthed San Francisco,” said Tony Johnson, marketing manager for Caterpillar Global Mining, Surface Mining & Technology Division. “It’s especially fitting to host this event just prior to MINExpo where Caterpillar will showcase a strategy of continuous innovation.”

“The Unearthed organisation has inspired more than 1 000 innovators to attack problems in the global resources sector, and in the process, at least 150 promising solutions have been produced,” said Roberto Ortega, Innovation Incubator at Caterpillar. “We are excited to put that kind of energy and imagination to work on behalf of our customers.”

Among the innovations emerging from Unearthed events are novel sensors and analytics for preventing oversize material from blocking the crushers on iron ore sites, predictive algorithms that dramatically reduce the need for lab sampling, and wearable devices that improve workplace safety. Some of the mining and oil & gas companies taking advantage of this approach include BHP Billiton, Iluka Resources, Newcrest, Rio Tinto and Woodside.

“The global resources sector faces unprecedented pressure to improve the efficiency and sustainability of its operations, and at the same time it will see nearly US$1-trillion of impact from new technologies in the decade ahead,” explains Justin Strharsky, director of Unearthed. “We are helping industry adapt by creating opportunities for entrepreneurs.”

The task at hand

In San Francisco, Caterpillar challenged hackathon participants to propose innovative ways to use telematics data and real-time coaching to improve surface mining truck operator performance. “Operator technique has a profound effect on productivity, fuel efficiency, component life and operating costs,” explains Johnson. “Our customers spend a lot of time and resources on traditional training activities, but we believe we can augment their work with data, analytics and real-time feedback.”

Using several large datasets from Caterpillar, hackathon participants explored how the information could be used to improve operator performance, predict potential problems, reward desired behaviour and reduce machine misuse. Caterpillar subject matter experts were on hand to provide industry perspective.

“We expect that the solutions provided by the hackathon participants will be applicable to surface and underground mining equipment,” says Ortega. “In the spirit of innovation, the solutions are likely to be applicable to most types of heavy equipment and not limited to mining applications.”

Equipment Africa says: It is encouraging to see Caterpillar’s relentless commitment to innovation.  The hackathon is just one more way, among many others the OEM has pioneered, of putting the latest tools, processes and ideas to work for fleet operators – helping them improve safety, increase production efficiency and reduce costs.

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