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The 5-year-old company is China's pioneer in the industry
Human haul driving is doomed to become a profession of the past, as several pioneers around the world race to scale their autonomous haulage solutions. Among them is China-based Eacon Mining Technology, which recently closed a hefty financing round and now eyes overseas growth.
Eacon Mining Technology announced last week that it scored $55 million in Series C funding. Leading the round was Richen Capital, Chinese backer in self-driving technologies. Other participators included Shenyin & Wanguo Capital Management and existing investor Estar Capital, which also focuses on smart driving technologies and industrial automation.
Eacon boasts to be China’s first autonomous mining company. Founded in 2018 and testing since 2019, Eacon is currently providing commercial services at a number of mines in China. This includes projects for China Energy Group and TBEA’s South Pit, the largest open-pit coal mine in China, according to the company.
Since 2022, Eacon focused on electric and hybrid mining trucks. These included equipping trucks with a plug-in hybrid electric drive system, as well as “an intelligent vehicle-wide energy management system, a specialized range extender system for large-tonnage mining trucks, wire-controlled braking, and a fully hydraulic wire-controlled steering system.” According to the company, these trucks can conquer slopes of up to 35% and reach a speed of 28 mph.
For mass rollout of its technology, Eacon partnered with trucking and excavation equipment maker LGMG to supply its trucks with drive-by-wire chassis and autonomous driving solutions. It’s also teamed up with Yutong Mining Equipment to build electric mining trucks and delivered a number of those to the Honghe mine in a so-called “zero-carbon mine” project. Eacon now runs 304 autonomous trucks that altogether drove 4.2 million kilometers without a human driver.
Next up, Eacon is to enter the commercialization phase and scaling. Head of Richen Capital, Tingfu Wang, said in a statement that he expects Eacon to “rapidly achieve net profitability" following its successful operations at mine sites.
With the new capital, Eacon will enhance operational productivity and invest in building new energy systems for mining trucks, according to a statement by company chairman Lei Zhang. Eacon is also poised to grow overseas and has opened an office in Perth, Australia, to attract foreign clientele.
In the United States, Caterpillar is among the frontrunners in autonomous haulage. The company runs its Cat® MineStar™ Command to remotely control machines and automate haul trucks. In recent news, Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan is to convert the fleet of Cat trucks at its Bagdad-Arizona copper mine to an autonomous haulage system.
Another top player is Komatsu, having built its autonomous haul truck jointly with Tucson-based mining equipment management systems developer Modular Mining. A fleet of Komatsu’s FrontRunner AHS trucks were set for deployment at Los Bronces, a Chilean open pit copper mine owned by Anglo American, a global mining company. Komatsu’s AHS trucks were first commercialized back in 2008.
Autonomous haulage is perceived as a safer way to run mining operations by removing human operators from hazardous or remote sites. Caterpillar also advertises reduced costs for employee infrastructure and travel, improved efficiency and consistency in operations, reduced downtown due to holidays and misuse, fuel efficiency, and instant upgrades or redesign of mine maps.
Image: Eacon Mining Technology
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