TECH TRAK High-tech hot metal delivery without a human in sight

Feb 01, 2008 | 12:51 PM |

A project by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to automate the transportation of molten aluminum during the smelter process could some day see machines performing tasks without the need for human control.

Researchers at CSIRO's Information and Communication Technologies Centre in Brisbane have been developing components to automate hot metal carriers, the 20-tonne forklift-like vehicles that transport molten aluminum in large containers called crucibles during the smelting process. Although still in the development and trial stage, the hope is to take humans out of many aspects of the production process, improving both efficiency and overall safety. Just as workers have been supplanted by robotics in many assembly lines, automation is likely to penetrate even further into industrial activities

"Eventually, autonomous vehicles will be ubiquitous in such production industries as smelters and mining," Ashley Tews, lead researcher for the autonomous hot metal carrier project, said. "We would hope that our technology will be part of the automated future of these industries."

The project began in 2005 when CSIRO scientists received an end-of-life hot metal carrier from Australia's Comalco Ltd., now part of Rio Tinto Aluminium (RTA), and set about adding both programmable control systems and remote navigation components, including laser range-finders and cameras for navigation, obstacle detection and crucible docking. Since then, researchers have developed higher-level systems to enable the vehicle to conduct autonomously all the operations of a manned vehicle.

Tews said the technology-laden carrier has successfully conducted hundreds of hours of scheduled and unscheduled demonstrations and tests at the Brisbane facility. One of the most significant experiments involved five hours of continuous operation during which the vehicle traveled more than 5 miles and conducted 60 load-handling operations.....

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