Designed by Rio Tinto to make the workplace safer for its people and to increase the efficiency of the aluminium production process, MAX is the world-first Autonomous Guided Vehicle (AGV) in aluminium smelters without any supplementary infrastructure (like for guiding).
Aluminium smelters are indeed a new frontier for autonomous vehicles. High magnetic fields, indoor and outdoor traffic, dust and heat levels in the operations present new challenges, and none of the available AGVs had been able to meet the company's specific requirements. Until now, the heavy anode transportation that MAX is designed for has been done using specialized transportation trucks, driven by operators on rotating shifts.
The ambitious mission of Rio Tinto's Aluminium Technology Solutions was to pioneer a transportation solution that was safe, environmentally sustainable and more productive and flexible.
The solution was developed with ECA Group, a specialist in robotics, automated systems and industrial processes, with the support of European program ECHORD++. The AGV completed its first successful pilot in 2014 at Aluminium Dunkerque, an aluminium smelter in northern France. During its trial, the vehicle transported anodes from the anode storage room to potrooms through various weather conditions. And in a series of tests of its emergency braking and advanced anti-collision safety system, MAX passed with flying colours.
Once testing was complete, the prototype was considered a resounding success and was showcased at the 2018 Autonomous Machines World conference in Berlin.
The industrial version, named MAX ANODE, is set for its first deployment in 2019.