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Ola Petterson, Group Manager LHD Applications, Rocktec Division at Atlas Copco.
In Örebro, Sweden, some 80 engineers work out what the future of mining will look like. The latest research project involves algorithms for autonomous surface drill rigs.
When Ola Pettersson started to work at Atlas Copco 2011, he was surprised there were so many colleagues working on software development. “I thought Atlas Copco was only a machinery company, but I was wrong,” says Pettersson, Group Manager LHD (Load Haul Dump) Applications within the Rocktec division in Örebro, Sweden.
He is leading a group of software developers who develop the control system for mining equipment – the brain that tells the machine what to do. Some machines are equipped with sensors in such a manner that they can operate autonomously.
Working as a software developer at Atlas Copco is slightly different than at other big industrial companies. “We get to try our algorithms and software in real life,” Pettersson says. “I like my job because it is really hands-on. We sit in a normal office landscape, but if you look closely you see dirty yellow coats hanging next to our desk, and we have boots tucked in under it. It takes no more than 20 minutes by car to drive to our test mine. It’s fascinating to think that our software can steer a huge trucks or drill rigs. And at the same time it can be scary to think that if something is wrong in the software, it can cause big trouble with such heavy machines.”
Pettersson leads three teams, each with a slightly different focus: automation (loaders and trucks that run autonomously, sometimes without human intervention); material handling (standard loaders and trucks with operators in the cabin) and telematics (small pods attached to the machines that gather information and send it wirelessly to the customer’s office). He is particularly glad that he also has a chance to do research. A project in conjunction with Örebro University develops new smart algorithms for autonomous surface drill rigs. Here several drill rigs work together in a common drilling job of up to a thousand holes. The system keeps track of what order the drilling should be done in, and if one machine needs maintenance the other needs to step in. “This is quite advanced fleet coordination,” Pettersson says. His team has applied for some patents, and the product is close to being ready for production.
At the Rocktec division in Örebro, about 80 software developers work on control systems, fleet management and telematics for mining equipment (drill rigs, loaders and trucks). The telematics system, named Certiq, makes it possible to monitor a machine wherever you are. At the same time, the machine can send data automatically, such as alarms via text message or an Excel report with production information.