Hot metal carrier with crucible.

CSIRO’s prototype hot metal carrier has demonstrated many hours of continuous autonomous operation.

A smarter way of moving molten metal

CSIRO is developing technologies that are enabling large driverless vehicles to operate in industrial worksites such as smelters.

  • 23 July 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011

Autonomous vehicles (those that operate with little or no human intervention) are becoming increasingly common in factories, but in heavy industrial settings they are still rare.

Apart from the physical difficulties of automating large vehicles, heavy industrial settings pose particular challenges such as:

  • spanning indoors and outdoors
  • dust and/or heat
  • strong magnetic fields
  • a constantly changing environment
  • the presence of people and other vehicles.

The problem

Hot metal carriers (HMCs) are 20 tonne forklift-style vehicles used in smelters to pick up crucibles of molten metal from pot lines and carry them to casting machines. Each crucible weighs about two tonnes and can hold up to eight tonnes of molten metal. The pot lines can be up to two kilometres long.

The prototype hot metal carrier (HMC) was trialled at their smelter at Bell Bay in Tasmania, Australia.

In a typical smelter operation, several HMCs operate continuously both inside and outside of sheds in the presence of other site vehicles and people.

There are currently no automated HMCs in operation anywhere in the world.

What CSIRO did

CSIRO has automated a HMC capable of conducting all the operations of a manned vehicle plus the ability to monitor and manage its own hardware and software and respond intelligently in the event of degraded operation of either.

The prototype autonomous HMC has been in operation since 2005 at CSIRO's industrial laboratory in Brisbane, Australia working for many continuous hours in all weathers.

Field trials of the core technologies are underway at a local smelter.

Technical details

One of the big challenges was developing an accurate and robust localisation system that tells the vehicle where it is at any instant.

Our localisation system is based on:

  • scanning laser rangefinder
  • pan tilt zoom cameras
  • steering encoder
  • odometry (counting wheel rotations).

Data from these sensors, along with a map of the site, are used to locate the vehicle to within 20 centimetres.

Outcomes

Automated vehicles offer advantages such as:

  • increased operational efficiency
  • consistent product delivery
  • reduced operation and maintenance costs
  • removing humans from potentially hazardous environments.

Collaboration

CSIRO is working with Rio Tinto Aluminium and the prototype HMC was trialled at their smelter at Bell Bay in Tasmania, Australia.

Read more about our other Large industrial robots.