As mobile network operators begin the rollout of the fifth generation (5G) of wireless technology worldwide during 2019–20, construction and mining equipment manufacturers are in their own race to adopt the technology to realize the full potential of digitalization on worksites. Compared with 4G technology, 5G provides higher speed, higher capacity and lower latency, and thus can handle more connected devices at the same time. On construction and mining sites, these benefits translate into greater efficiency, lower operating costs and fewer risks, especially in hazardous environments.
Operating machines remotely is an attractive proposition for the construction and mining industries; however, this cannot be achieved accurately with the latency of current 4G networks. Existing remote control systems have a time lag between the movement of machinery and the transmission of images. Minimizing this time lag is crucial to achieving the real-time, remote operability of equipment with the speed and precision equivalent to on-board operations.
Manufacturers such as Doosan, Hyundai Construction Equipment, Volvo Construction Equipment and Epiroc are conducting trials of operating equipment such as excavators and loaders remotely using 5G technology on job sites in South Korea, Japan, Sweden and Finland. In the effort to commercialise 5G technology as early as 2020, these manufacturers are collaborating with telecommunication companies such as LG, SK Telecom, Nokia and Ericsson to study new business models, applications and ecosystems that will drive it widespread adoption.
South Korea has taken the lead in these joint 5G trials. Doosan recently demonstrated the use of 5G technology for remote control of construction equipment, at the bauma 2019 exhibition. From a control station on its stand at bauma in Munich, the manufacturer demonstrated the operation of a Doosan DX380LC-5 40-tonne crawler excavator located over 8500 km away in Incheon, South Korea. The control station in Munich was equipped with 3D machine guidance, real time diagnostics and a full gauge display systems.
This was the first demonstration of remote control of a machine across continents and a time difference of eight hours, using 5G technology. Doosan developed this remote control system with South Korean telecommunications and data services company LGUplus (LG U+) and has termed it ‘Teleoperation’. A week prior to the demonstration, LG U+ and other South Korean telecom companies SK Telecom and KT had launched the world’s first 5G network.
For the Doosan Teleoperation to function properly, it is essential to deliver live video streaming at the operator’s station in a reliable way that minimizes time lag in the system for the operator. The LG U+ 5G network overcomes these issues in the Teleoperation system, providing 10 times faster bandwidth and 10 times lower latency than a 4G network. Thus, an operator in a remote location will have the same real-time control of the excavator and the ability to operate it with the accuracy of an operator in the excavator cab.
LG U+ has incorporated special features such as a low-latency video transmission module with fast video transfer (with encoding and decoding), an important factor in reducing the time delay. The telecom partner has also introduced new modules providing low latency image processing to further minimize the time delay. Another factor in creating more effective remote control is the use of Doosan's electrohydraulic technology in the DX380LC-5 excavator.
The remote-controlled DX380LC-5 excavator demonstrated at bauma 2019 was a standard machine, which allows Doosan to ensure the performance and the compatibility of third party attachments and other equipment installed on the excavator. It is also possible to carry out both normal operation and Teleoperation with same machine.
In addition to general earthmoving applications, the Teleoperation system is suitable for operating excavators in dangerous applications such as industrial waste disposal, involving hazardous, toxic or radioactive substances. It is also useful for work on collapsing waste piles and in areas where there are buried mines and other munitions. Safety can be further increased via the zoning and area limitation functions available through the Teleoperation system.
Hyundai Construction Equipment (HCE) has partnered with South-Korea-based SK Telecom and US-based Trimble to develop a ‘smart construction’ solution that will integrate 5G technology, big data and artificial intelligence to enable automated operation and remote control of equipment at construction sites. In this collaboration, HCE will develop intelligent construction equipment and a remote troubleshooting technology for malfunctions. SKT will be in charge of providing data communication services, including 5G, and developing safety solutions fit for different construction sites. Trimble will be responsible for developing solutions for drone-aided land surveying and cartographic transformation and for enhanced operational efficiency of construction projects. The companies aim to commercialize the solution by 2020.
In Japan, trials are underway to use 5G for swift recovery of assets in disaster-hit areas inaccessible to workers. Obayashi Corporation, one of the largest construction companies in Japan, has partnered with telecommunications company KDDI Corporation and IT products and services company NEC Corporation to conduct joint field experiments on remote control of construction machinery via 5G networks.
The three companies conducted a trial in December 2018 at the Aigawa Dam construction site in Ibaraki, Osaka, where 5G technology was used to remotely control two construction machines, a backhoe and a crawler loader, to transport sand. Four cameras, three 2K forward cameras and one omnidirectional camera, were installed on each machine to transmit images and sound data in real time. The trial demonstrated that remote control can deliver the same results as on-board operations.
Given that fibre-optic lines are most often unavailable at disaster sites, the 5G base station and the remote control room, separated by about 750m, were connected through a wireless entrance network. This was used for 5G backhaul and for transmitting images from four overhead cameras.
An in-vehicle 5G base station was introduced by installing a remote control room in a mobile trailer, demonstrating that a remote control environment can be immediately built at disaster-hit areas, and recovery works carried on swiftly and safely. The trial also introduced an interactive voice control system to operate the construction machinery remotely, establishing that a single operator could control two construction machines, simultaneously.
KDDI, Obayashi, and NEC were successful in an earlier joint field experiment using 5G and 4K 3D monitoring for the first time in Japan in February 2018. The companies aim to realize advanced construction technology utilizing 5G through a series of field experiments.
Kobelco is developing its remote control concept called K-Dive to give construction companies access to dangerous jobsites such as industrial waste disposal sites, disaster zones, and regions of extreme cold, from the comfort and safety of an office environment. It could enable operators who are unable to physically work on a jobsite due to geographical or time restrictions to still be instrumental in activity.
During the early stages of the K-Dive concept’s development, Kobelco identified that there should be no loss of productivity, unfamiliarity of the controls or other features when trying to operate an excavator remotely. In order to achieve this, the manufacturer created a realistic simulator cabin, which looks and feels like an excavator working on a jobsite.
During further technical development of the K-Dive concept, Kobelco hopes to make it possible to transfer data such as deployment records and running work totals for the machine in real time via 5G networks. According to Kobelco, technologies to assist the remote operation of excavators are soon going to be tested in Japan and field monitoring is expected to be completed by 2020.
In addition, Kobelco is currently developing a ‘site telework sharing’ concept for construction jobsites. This involves creating a network system for jobsites and construction machines using a remote cockpit, meaning that contractors can establish and recruit operators from other regions or even countries. This also means that contractors can select operators for jobsites based to their specific experience and skills. As a result, operators will, in theory, have access to any jobsite anywhere in the world without being restricted by location, and can even work during times that suit their lifestyle. This remote cockpit also enables contractors to view progress of a jobsite in real time, and it can be used as a virtual training room so apprentices can improve their operating skills remotely.
In Sweden, Volvo Construction Equipment (Volve CE), along with local telecommunications and networking companies Telia, and Ericsson have launched Sweden’s first 5G network for industrial use at Volvo CE’s research and development facility in Eskilstuna. The 5G network will be used to develop solutions for remote control of construction machinery and fully automated solutions. It will also be used to understand how connected machines can create added value for customers. The trials in Eskilstuna will include the remote control of a conventional wheel loader and also the HX2 concept load carrier.
Private LTE will enable the transition to 5G in the mining industry
Mining companies are increasingly seeking to digitalize and automate their operations to increase productivity, enhance operator safety and reduce cost. This includes, for example, remotely operating machines from a control room, and collecting machine performance data to optimize use of the equipment.
This creates a need for reliable, high-performance wireless connectivity at the mines in order to support multiple applications and services simultaneously. Accordingly, the industry is moving away from less predictable wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, and towards private LTE and 5G networks that improve security, capacity, and overall performance within a multi-application environment.
Epiroc has signed a cooperation agreement with Ericsson to jointly help mining companies achieve optimal wireless connectivity in their operations through LTE and 5G technologies. The technology, which is for both underground and open pit mines, has already been tested on Epiroc’s machines at the company’s test mine in Kvarntorp, Sweden.
Another Swedish company Sandvik has signed an agreement with Nokia to further develop Sandvik solutions for private LTE and 5G technology. The Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (NDAC) platform offers pervasive connectivity enabling advanced applications, and will initially be implemented and tested in the Sandvik test mine in Tampere, Finland.
Private LTE networks offer reliable and secure high-capacity, low-latency and wide-coverage mobile broadband to serve mission and business critical industrial connectivity needs and offer a variety of terminals, sensors and other devices. The Nokia digital automation platform will operate both underground and in open pit mines, and offers a flexible connectivity platform for testing and developing Sandvik technology. This network enables operation of autonomous vehicles, real-time monitoring of underground and outdoor premises to keep people and equipment safe, remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance, as well as asset management, control and authentication.
Recently, Komatsu’s FrontRunner Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) was qualified to operate on private LTE networks after completing extensive testing of the FrontRunner AHS on Nokia’s Future X infrastructure for a year. According to Nokia, private LTE will help to enable digital transformation in many industries and pave the way towards the adoption of even more capable 5G mobile technologies. Qualcomm, too, estimates that LTE has an ongoing roadmap and is important to the development and evolution of 5G. As a result, private LTE and 5G are likely to coexist for many years, according to industry experts.