Electromobility and automation are two of the hottest topics in leading edge technology right now. And at a test site in Sweden, Volvo CE has proved that these technologies can be combined to run a quarry that's virtually emission-free.

In this episode, Volvo CE's Dr. Fares Beainy parses the benefits and challenges of an all-electric fleet of construction equipment and charts the future of autonomy for the construction industry. 

Overall, the project achieved a 98-percent reduction in carbon emissions, 70-percent reduction in energy cost, and a 40-percent reduction in operator cost.

Learn more about the potential for autonomy in the equipment industry, or subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor for regular updates in your email about industry news and insights. 

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Dr Fares Beainy:

I think electrification and autonomy means a safer worksite, a more productive worksite, and a cleaner worksite. That's definite.

Dusty Weis:

Hello, and welcome to another edition of the AEM Thinking Forward Podcast, advancing the equipment manufacturing industry. I'm Dusty Weis. AEM's professional nerd, charging cable collector, and podcast host.

Electromobility and automation may be two of the hottest topics in leading edge technology right now. And we know from an AEM McKinsey research partnership that your customers are interested in autonomous and electric powered heavy equipment. But unless your name is Elon Musk, chances are pretty good you haven't gone to production with anything yet.

But that's all changing as several equipment manufacturers, including Volvo Construction, are launching all-electric compact product lines. And on today's program, Volvo's Dr. Fares Beainy will tell us how they've gone a step further, piloting an all-electric fleet of heavy duty equipment at a quarry in Sweden.

It's these sorts of cutting edge insights we work to bring you here on the AEM Thinking Forward Podcast. Each month, we explore a new subject area to help keep your business on the vanguard of the industry. So if you haven't yet, make sure you subscribe to our podcast feed so you get an update every time we put out a new edition. Just find us in your favorite podcast app, and hit that subscribe button.

Along those lines, I'd really appreciate it also, if you told me what you think of our show. Rate or review us in iTunes, or whatever your favorite podcasting app is. And I'll note that our average rating on iTunes right now is five out of five stars, although I'm pretty sure at least one of those was from my mom. Anyway, your ratings and comments help other industry pros find our podcast, and help me keep it relevant.

So late last year, Volvo CE embarked on a 10 week pilot project to launch the world's first emission free quarry, using electromobility and automation solutions never before deployed on a job site. Set in a quarry outside Gothenburg, Sweden, this functioning quarry used primarily electric power in all its equipment, although there was some diesel power still used.

Overall, the project achieved a 98% reduction in carbon emissions, 70% reduction in energy cost, and a 40% reduction in operator cost. Perhaps more importantly, the electric site proved that electrification and automation are viable technologies in this field.

And there are some other takeaway lessons for OEMs who are looking to more pioneering solutions in this space, as well. Joining me to parse some of these lessons is Dr. Fares Beainy, Volvo CE's Electromobility Strategy and Business Development Manager.

Dr. Beainy, thanks for joining us on the AEM Thinking Forward Podcast.

Dr Fares Beainy:

Hello Dusty. Thanks for having me.

Dusty Weis:

It's a pleasure to talk to you today. Paint a picture for me, if you will. Walk me through this site when it was in operation. What does it look like? What does it sound like? And how is it different from the sorts of quarrying operations with which we're familiar?

Dr Fares Beainy:

The electric site project makes you feel really good about the future. It provides a sneak peek on what is coming. On a conventional quarry site, you hear a lot of noise, especially from diesel engines. And even though these engines are cleaner , you still see the moist exhaust fumes coming from out of the machine.

So with the electric site, it is quieter than ever, and it looks cleaner than we've ever seen it before. The only thing you see is dust, which is part of the nature, and not harmful for the environment. So that's not an issue. It's more like part of the job.

But overall it's a positive vibe, and it goes well with our mindset at Volvo CE that we want to build the world that we want to live in, and it's already looking good. So it's a very comforting picture.

Dusty Weis:

This notion of a quiet mining site is just, it blows my mind, because, of course, anybody that's ever spent time in a quarry knows that it's a loud, dirty place. I'm fascinated by this notion that you can hear each other speak, and you're not having to shout over all that noise.

Tell me about the individual pieces of equipment that you had on this work site. What makes them special and different?

Dr Fares Beainy:

We had mainly three types of equipment that we used as part of the electric site. One of them was what we called the LX01, which is a concept hybrid electric wheel loader.

Another one is what we called the HX02, which is another concept machine. It is an autonomous and battery electric load carrier. We used eight of them. They were going in a circle and not stopping.

And the third type of equipment that we used was a modified EC750 electric grid connected excavator, which is also a concept machine.

Those were the three types of machines we used as part of the electric site, and most of them were electric. Either hybrid electric, full electric. The excavator was grid connected to the site using a cable.

Dusty Weis:

And it's fascinating to me, because here on the AEM Thinking Forward Podcast, we cover a lot of those same topics all the time. Electrification. IOT. Autonomous mobility, and the like. And this electric site pretty much checks all the boxes as far as future technologies that OEMs in this space should be aware of. So I kind of want to go through these one by one, and discuss what was going on.

The primary crusher on the site is loaded on that newly debuted excavator prototype, which can be run off either electric power, or diesel. Why did you make the choice to have it run on both types of power, and did that present any particular design challenges for you?

Dr Fares Beainy:

As I mentioned, it's a prototype machine, and it's based on the EC750 excavator. And whoever know our machines, that's quite a big excavator, and it has a 385 kilowatt engine. That's a lot of power. And it consumes quite a bit of energy. So that's why we decided to have it connected to the grid. And, most importantly, it stays in one location 99% of the time. Therefore, having that cable to connect it to the grid was not an issue, but more like an opportunity to have a more efficient operation for the customer.

Anyway, this type of practice is already adopted by the industry today. You see some of these machines already modified as after market machines by dealers or customers, and they already use that type of connection to modify some of these excavators, and connect them to the grid.

The idea of having a diesel engine onboard is to provide some level of mobility. It they want to move the machine from one location to another, every once in a while. So most of the time, the machine is stationary. You connect it to the grid with the cable. But, if you want to move it to another location to do something in a different way, then you have the diesel engine that you can move it. And it's a prototype. So this is what we thought was good for this project specifically.

Dusty Weis:

So the idea is pretty much that when it's sitting in one spot, and working as a crusher, you plug it in. And when it's moving around the site, or getting from place to place, you use the diesel engine. That's a really neat concept. What sort of power source did you use, and do you anticipate having on site, to plug these machines into?

Dr Fares Beainy:

So most of these quarries already have an electric infrastructure. So we just connected to the electric infrastructure that is on the site. Of course, there was some special equipment that we needed to install, but it was basically the existing infrastructure that were connected to it was from extra equipment.

Dusty Weis:

Were there any special accommodations you had to make on site where you have power cables running to these machines? Because I presume you don't exactly want a tracked excavator driving over that cable. That could be a problem.

Dr Fares Beainy:

Yeah, you definitely don't want that. So yes, we had some special installations to have these cables running on top of the site, and coming to the machines from top down. But nothing too complex.

Dusty Weis:

So in other industries, when you talk about replacing a traditional internal combustion engine with electric power, the one thing that you always hear about is the power that these things can bring to bear. I've experienced this myself by driving my brother-in-law's Tesla. I got to test ride the Harley Davidson LiveWire. Both electric powered vehicles. And you put the hammer down, and the torque is just instantly there on these vehicles. Did Volvo find the same benefits in test piloting its electric wheel loader, the LX1?

Dr Fares Beainy:

Oh, yeah, definitely. And this was the feedback we got from waste management operators in California, because we did some testing with them on the LX1 machine in 2017, and we got that same exact feedback that the machine has a lot of instantaneous power available to the operator. So what it's basically doing is allowing for a more productive operation.

One thing I want to add here, since we're talking about this topic, is that LX1 machine has electric hub wheels, and that's allowing us to have a better traction control on the wheels. It saves on wear and tear of the tires, which is another savings, on top of the 50% increase in fuel efficiency that may be sometimes overlooked.

Dusty Weis:

So when you say that it has electric hub wheels, that means that each wheel has its own individual power source and is powered independent of the other wheels, sort of increasing the traction control you have?

Dr Fares Beainy:

Exactly. So each wheel has its own separate electric motor that drives that wheel. So you basically have four electric motors that are driving the machine so you can control the speed, the acceleration of these motors separately, to have a better traction control, and that allows you to save on your tires and reduce spinning.

Dusty Weis:

And I imagine that, especially on a mining site, where you've got crushed gravel, and really unpredictable terrain all over the place, that just makes a huge difference. Have you been able to operate these machines yourself? And what's it like sitting in the driver's seat?

Dr Fares Beainy:

I did operate some of these machines. I mean, it feels a little different than a conventional machine. But as I said, I mean, you have this instantaneous power, and it feels closer to the material. You have a better contact with the material, because you have that instantaneous connection, and you don't have that lag with the conventional machine, where you have the diesel engine that needs to ramp up. But once you get used to it, it's so powerful, and you have this instantaneous power that allows you to do more, in less time.

Dusty Weis:

And I bet it's just fun as all get out too, to operate one of these things.

Dr Fares Beainy:

Definitely. Definitely.

Dusty Weis:

So with the wheel loader, where does the hybrid part come in? Is this a machine that runs on electric until the battery runs down? Or is it electric and internal combustion simultaneous with each other?

Dr Fares Beainy:

So the LX1 electric hybrid wheel loader is a series hybrid design. That means basically you have a diesel engine that's charging electric batteries, and those electric batteries are running, or powering, the machine. That allows us to run the machine on pure electric, while the diesel engine is turned off, up to 30 minutes. Of course, depending on the application and how aggressive you use the machine, you drain the battery faster, but it allows you to use it with the diesel engine turned off up to some amount of time.

On the other hand, the diesel engine can be turned on to continuously charge the batteries for a full day, or full shift operation, running on low RPM.

So two things I want to highlight here. The machine can recuperate energy from braking, as well as the hydraulic working equipment. So that basically puts back some of the power into the batteries, increasing fuel efficiency.

And the diesel engine on the LX1 machine is half of the size of an engine on a similar conventional wheel loader. So basically the diesel engine is much smaller, and will recuperate energy allowing us to be much more efficient with fuel efficiency.

Dusty Weis:

Do you find that the hybrid model, as you outlined it there, sort of gives you more flexibility as an operator?

Dr Fares Beainy:

It does, because it allows you to run the machine on pure electricity, while turn off the diesel engine. That could be beneficial also from a noise reduction perspective in some applications. So some applications, maybe you want to run at night loaders.

And also it gives you, of course, definitely more flexibility.

Dusty Weis:

One thing that stands out to me is, in the mining operation that was going on before you test piloted this new technology, there were three rigid haulers that moved material around the site. But you replaced them with eight smaller haulers. If I'm guessing here, this is a decision that was enabled by the autonomous guidance technology with which these haulers are equipped. Correct? And, if so, why?

Dr Fares Beainy:

Yes, that's correct. We call that concept at Volvo, From Elephant to Ants. Making the machine smaller. And that's basically allowing the customer to have lower total cost ownership. And a little bit more flexibility when you have these smaller machines. For example, if one is down, you still have many more machines that are running around, and it doesn't have so much effect on productivity.

Dusty Weis:

The idea, of course, with this Elephant to Ants is that you can make these smaller machines, and sell them for cheaper, and they can buy more of them. But would this still be a viable business model for your customers, but for the autonomous technology?

Dr Fares Beainy:

The reason they had these larger machines, very complex, big tires, a lot of cost, because they wanted to save on the operator costs. Right? So less machines, less operators. You save on that cost.

But when you make these machines smaller, cheaper to operate from a mechanical point of view, but we're also removing the operator, allowing for the total cost of ownership to go down. So we kind of solved the problem for the customer by having those machines autonomous, and have them smaller. So we reduced maintenance, initial cost, as well as the operator cost.

Dusty Weis:

And we're really excited about this sort of autonomous guidance technology, because this is something more than any of these other technologies, that's really on the cutting edge.

So with the autonomous guidance technology on this equipment, how might it apply in a broader industry context? How does it work? And how does it account for the safety of the workers who are still required to play various roles on this site?

Dr Fares Beainy:

These HX02s use a number of sensors, as you would expect. Right? A differential GPS, as well as lidar and radar. Together these sensors can follow a preset route and safely stop in case of an obstacle in the way. In addition, all these HX02s are connected together to the site management application. And the operator and the LX01 loader, or wheel loader, can also communicate with those HX02s for operational purposes. So from a safety and operational management purposes, these machines use all these sensors and connectivity to operate seamlessly.

So the learnings from the electric side, when it comes to automation, was tremendous, because from a technology perspective, we learned a lot from sensors, and software, but also we learned that connectivity is very important. Communication is very important for safety.

So a lot of these learnings could be applied on a higher level of different type of equipment, and different type of application.

Dusty Weis:

You had mentioned that, on this test site, you had programmed these eight haulers to essentially drive in a circuit. So they would park in front of the loader and pick up a load, and then drive off and deposit that load somewhere, and then sort of queue up behind the other loaders, and just keep driving in that circle?

Dr Fares Beainy:

Correct. Yes. That's correct.

Dusty Weis:

That sounds fascinating. It sounds like watching an army of ants move pebbles around.

Dr Fares Beainy:

Exactly.

Dusty Weis:

I would imagine that with so many autonomous pieces of equipment on the site, that there has to be a pretty powerful back end control and command system that keeps track of everything then. Was that designed specifically for this site, or was this a software solution that Volvo already had in its toolkit?

Dr Fares Beainy:

I would say this was a combination of existing technologies, but a lot of additions to it. But the most of it, we had new content. And it was mostly designed specifically for the electric site.

Dusty Weis:

And does one person control the entire work site through this software interface? Or is it more of a multi-person job? I'm sort of picturing like NASA's ground control here. And how does this system enhance the collaboration of forepersons and workers on the site?

Dr Fares Beainy:

There's one main operator that operates management software, but also the operator inside the LX1 wheel loader, for example, has the capability to communicate with the HXO2s, as well as the possibility for other personnel on the job site, to be able to use emergency switches to shut down the operation in case of an emergency. So it is a one man operation on top, but also there are other people on the ground that have capabilities to interact with the system, and talk to the machine.

Dusty Weis:

So as all of these pieces of equipment are out on the site, moving around, collecting data, and then funneling this data back to your sort of central hub, I imagine that this will also present you with the opportunity to provide a livestream of data in analyzed productivity on the worksite as well.

Dr Fares Beainy:

This was the first prototype. So the focus was on safety and fundamental operational functions. So we didn't really provide a extensive list of features. But more of these features will be added in the future, to provide plant operators with more capabilities to customize, as well as fine tune, its operation.

Dusty Weis:

So when mining operations are considering deploying this technology, they are going to have legacy equipment in infrastructure with which this technology will have to work, or at least work around. Does the software interface allow for other brands of equipment to eventually be incorporated into the job site?

Dr Fares Beainy:

So not this specific electric site prototype version, because it was all Volvo machines. But inter-product ability, if you want to call it that way, is high on the list of our connectivity department. So we definitely design our connected solutions to work with other equipment on the site, but not specifically for this electric site project.

Dusty Weis:

I understand Volvo partnered with a company called Skanska on this pilot project. How did that partnership come about, and what was the benefit of having Skanska on the site there with you?

Dr Fares Beainy:

Skanska is a key account. One of the largest customers we have. We always have dialogues. We are always talking to them. So it came up at some point. The main benefit between is to involve our customers as early as possible in the exploration and development process of new technologies and innovations. That allows Volvo to develop solutions that solve real problems for our customers, and adds value to their daily operations, and allows them to do their job even better, more efficient, and hopefully cheaper. Both sides were excited, and worked on it together. And it was a great learning experience for Skanska, as well as for Volvo CE.

Dusty Weis:

We're talking with Dr. Fares Beainy, Volvo CE's Electromobility and Business Development Manager. Fares, big picture here. What would you say are some of the most important lessons that the industry can take away from this electric test site project?

Dr Fares Beainy:

I would say that electrification of large sites is possible. And that the total cost of ownership, as well as the environmental benefits, are definitely worth spending resources and energy to explore and develop such technologies in the areas of automation, connectivity, and electromobility. Both from an OEM perspective, but also from customers and contractors, to spend energy and be early adopters in this innovation process.

Dusty Weis:

What are the benefits, do you think, of being an early adopter?

Dr Fares Beainy:

To be part of the future, and shape the future, and make sure that OEMs, and the government, if you want to add that to the equation, are developing solutions, legislation, whatever it is, that is really helping the industry, and helping solve problems that contractors, and customers, equipment managers, are facing today.

Dusty Weis:

That's certainly something that we like to champion at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers is we think, very often, it's better to meet the future head on, than to wind up reacting to things that are thrust upon you.

These technologies, they were mostly prototypes. But is there a timeline for when they might be deployed and made available for purchase in the industry? And, if so, how might they be different, or improved upon, from the equipment that was deployed on the Swedish test site?

Dr Fares Beainy:

Well, you might not like my answer, but no clear dates. But we are definitely working on commercializing versions of the machines showed at the electric site. They will, of course, be slightly different, and that depends on the case. On the machine. But no clear dates. No clear timelines at the moment.

Dusty Weis:

Oh, Dr. Beainy. That's heartbreaking, because I can't wait to get my hands on the controls of one of these machines, and actually get to try it out for the first time.

One of the major advantages that Volvo celebrates about this project is that the quarry was virtually emission free when it was in operation. As a company, why did Volvo identify that as an important goal?

Dr Fares Beainy:

As you might know, the environmental care is core value for Volvo group. Zero emission is one of Volvo CE's top goals. And building tomorrow is a mindset that we have at work every day. So such a goal is normal, and expected, I believe.

Dusty Weis:

The results from this test site showed that this technology could result in a 40% reduction in operator costs, as well. Just with all of the autonomous equipment that was moving around the site on its own. And I image that that's especially attractive right now, as many construction and mining operations are being hindered by the scarce availability of qualified labor.

But beyond the question of who drives the machines, is the question of how they're driven. This younger generation that's entering the workforce now, myself among them, grew up playing video games where you would work as a team in a digital environment. Do you see a workforce advantage in building machines that operate more like video games?

Dr Fares Beainy:

I personally do, because it matches the type of workforce our customers will be dealing with in the near future. And I'm sure that our user experience department is taking all of this into consideration, of course, among other challenges. I'm pretty positive it is part of our design team looking at user experience.

Dusty Weis:

Even bigger picture now. Having deployed these technologies on a test site, seen them in action, studied the results, what do electrification and autonomy mean for the future of the construction and mining industry? Is this technology going to supplant traditional equipment as we know it now? Or will there be situations where traditional equipment is still preferable, do you think?

Dr Fares Beainy:

I think electrification and autonomy means a safer work site, a more productive work site, and a cleaner work site. That's definite.
Dr Fares Beainy: As far as how it's going to work with the conventional equipment, I believe it is going to be gradual, so it's going to be a gradual introduction, and it's going to take time. So it's not going to be an on/off switch. So it's going to take time. It's going to be gradual introduced in different applications, and with different machine sizes, different machine types. It's a big change, but it's going to be going gradual.

Dusty Weis:

What's next then, from your perspective, working on this project? You've run the test site. You've established that this is viable technology. You've probably got troves and troves of data to go over. So where do you see this project going in the five to 10 years that are ahead of us now?

Dr Fares Beainy:

The next step would be more pilot projects, more testing, more development on these products. Also, with the customer, to make sure that we're maturing the technology, and it will be hopefully available as a commercial product in the near future.

We also made an announcement at the beginning of this year, 2019, that we will go electric on the compact size machines. We unveiled two electric machines. Full electric battery, electric compact wheel loader and the compact excavator.

Dusty Weis:

Well, it's been absolutely exciting and fun to watch, and exhilarating to see this technology get deployed on a test site, and achieve the results that it did. It's plainly clear to anybody listening that these are exciting times. You're the lucky guy that gets to be right on the front of it, so that's really neat.

Dr Fares Beainy:

I love talking about this topic. As you mentioned, I'm lucky to be part of it. Seriously. Because I was an engineer before, developing the technology. And now I'm more on the business side. So I feel really lucky being part of it.

Dusty Weis:

Well Dr. Fares Beainy, Volvo Construction Equipment's Electromobility Strategy and Business Development Manager, thank you for joining us on the AEM Thinking Forward Podcast.

Dr Fares Beainy:

Thank you.

Dusty Weis:

IOT interconnected devices and autonomy are going to be big topics of discussion at AEM's next Thinking Forward event, at the Cisco Innovation Center in Toronto. That's coming up on September 10th, which I hear is actually a lovely time to visit Toronto. We'll also have an expert speaker on how to tailor your workforce development efforts to specifically target different micro generation you need to attract. Once again, that's September 10th, in Toronto.

We've also got events on the calendar for Milwaukee in October, and St. Louis in November. All the details to reserve your seat now are online at AEM.org/think.

And that is going to wrap up this edition of the AEM Thinking Forward Podcast. For more valuable industry insights, make sure you're signed up for the AEM Industry Advisor, our twice weekly e-newsletter. Visit AEM.org/subscribe to get on the list.

If you need to get in touch with me directly, shoot me an email at podcast@AEM.org. The AEM Thinking Forward Podcast is brought to you by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. Little Glass Men does the music.

And for AEM, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.

 

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