Albeit in my early forties, I've always enjoyed completing jigsaw puzzles on my holidays at the beach; big 3000 piece ones that I can complete during downtime with my family. However, frustrated with the dining table taken up with thousands of little puzzle pieces, my wife has in recent years transitioned me to Lego Technic aka Lego for big boys.
Not one to complain, I've enjoyed reverting back to the memories of childhood and building creations from the 'ground up', the most recent being the Volvo Concept Wheel Loader ZEUX.
In stirring my grey brain matter, it got me thinking about the evolution of machines and the extent that we've been willing to challenge the status quo to achieve greater outcomes through the adaptation of technology and design. In the instance of Volvo's futuristic collaboration with Lego, the creation of an autonomous wheel loader with adjustable counter weight, four-wheel steering, variable wheel base and mapping drone.
Change rarely occurs in one large leap. What appears to be spontaneous and easy, is often as a result of many small steps undertaken over extended periods of time.
Take Komatsu's cabless autonomous truck (dubbed Komatsu's Innovative Autonomous Haulage Vehicle) displayed at the 2016 Las Vegas MINExpo. A culmination of learnings drawn from their autonomous 830E and 930E haul trucks, this 'next gen' machine is an exclusively unmanned vehicle.
By 'simply' removing the cab, Komatsu allowed themselves the ability to bring forward design concepts that previously could not have been contemplated under a traditional haul truck format.
With what appears one minor step change, Komatsu achieved through the mastering of autonomous haulage, the ability to adopt four-wheel steering, equally distribute the trucks load across all four wheels as well as create a machine that can move at the same speed forwards and backwards, effectively eliminating the need for k-turns when loading and unloading.
Operating more like a tram than a truck, this rig shuttles its loads between A and B, decreasing circuit times and (I would imagine) vastly reducing maintenance costs associated with the wear and tear of components. With a gross weight of 416 tonnes and payload of 230 tonnes, this concept truck is pitched at the big end of town and provides our industry a very real glimpse of what we can expect in the coming years (all with a turning radius of 15.9 metres).
Which got me thinking again (this time with a cool ale and cricket playing in the background), is our pursuit of short-term financial gains stifling our ability to grow through the experimentation of ideas.
In chasing tonnes are we reducing our ability to change? Maybe, just maybe, the Chinese were onto something with their ancient proverb 'a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step' then again, perhaps I simply had one too many beers.
If you'd like to know more, visit YouTube and search 'Komatsu's Innovative Autonomous Haulage Vehicle' likewise, 'Volvo CE ZEUX' for the Lego nerd in all of us.
This article was originally published by the Components Only team in the February 2019 issue of "@ The Coal Face" magazine.Published 18 February, 2019