UD Trucks and Kobe Steel have conducted an autonomous driving trial at Kobe Steel’s Kakogawa Works, using a heavy-duty Quon equipped with L4 autonomous driving technology*1. The initiative*2 is intended to alleviate a driver shortage at the steel works site and to promote digital transformation at manufacturing and logistics sites.
Solutions for manufacturing sites in a digital era
In today’s world, manufacturing sites must address labor shortages and improve efficiencies to run sustainable business operations. Kobe Steel is tackling such challenges by improving the efficiency of on-site transportation in the midst of a driver shortage. Making use of a UD Trucks Quon autonomous dump truck, a trial was conducted simulating the transportation of actual materials within the Kobe Steel’s Kakogawa Works site. The ultimate objective is to adopt this autonomous driving technology to maximize efficiency and lower the dependency on skilled drivers.
Douglas Nakano, UD Trucks Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, says, “This trial is another important milestone towards the future of the transport and we are very proud of it”.
A closer look at the autonomous driving trial
The trial was conducted over a period of two months from the end of August to the end of October 2022. A heavy-duty Quon dump truck*3 manufactured by UD Trucks moved along a portion of the route used to carry water crushed slag*4 within the Kakogawa Works site. The truck was equipped with Level 4 confined-area autonomous driving technology*5. The slag weighing roughly 17 tons was loaded and automatically transported to and from multiple points within the site. Operational tasks such as stopping, loading, and unloading the payload within a set time frame were also carried out autonomously.
The trial was implemented to simulate loading and unloading operations as well as to test and validate the reliability, accuracy and productivity of an automated slag transportation operation. The autonomous driving system provided by Sensible4*6 recognizes and responds accordingly to rugged terrain and variations in weather. The truck is also equipped with state-of-the-art UD Active Steering*7, which dampens vibrations through slight directional adjustments to ensure precise and stable steering on rough roads. The vehicle stays on course by incorporating GNSS-RTK and 3D-LiDAR technology, which ensures accurate movements even in an environment where satellite signals could be blocked by facilities on the site.
The trial not only demonstrated the accuracy of autonomous driving within the site, but also the ability to perform a series of other operations successfully. Slag loaded by a wheel loader could be transported by the autonomous truck to any number of pre-set locations. At the unloading area, the slag was poured into the hopper by an automatic dump function provided by ShinMaywa Industries, Ltd.*8 In addition, a continuous series of running tests inside the Kakogawa Works site was conducted on the test course.
Driving innovative solutions through collaborative efforts across industries
In 2018, UD Trucks announced the launch of “Fujin & Raijin. Vision 2030.”— an Innovation Roadmap which aims to deliver a variety of solutions for Smart Logistics, including fully-electric and autonomous trucks towards 2030. This initiative also bolsters UD Trucks’ Better Life purpose – to be better for logistics, the planet, people, and business by integrating sustainability across the company and its customers’ operations and processes.
Kobe Steel is embracing a digital transformation strategy that seeks to utilize an array of technical and business assets unique to the Group to maximize businesses opportunities and promote initiatives that address social issues while creating new value.
Through this collaboration, UD Trucks and Kobe Steel are pursuing innovative solutions for a changing world, helping make logistics and society better as a whole.
*1 Level 4 vehicles can operate in self-driving mode under pre-defined conditions and will not operate unless all required conditions are met. To ensure safety, the route will be off limits to people and a safety driver will be present behind the wheel, able to intervene in the event of any unforeseen situation or emergency.
*2 Initial Press Release - November 12, 2021
UD Trucks: https://www.udtrucks.com/news-and-stories/news/ud-trucks-and-kobe-steel-to-conduct-level-4-autonomous-driving-trial
Kobe Steel: https://www.kobelco.co.jp/english/releases/1209681_15581.html
*3 Experimental vehicle: 6x4 (three axles, with drivetrain delivering power to two axles), gross vehicle weight: 31 tons
*4 Sandy slag rapidly cooled by injecting pressure water into molten slag generated from blast furnaces. Mainly sold in Japan and overseas as raw materials for cement
*5 Level 4 confined-area autonomous driving compatible vehicles: Vehicles in which the system fully performs recognition, judgment and operations within specific driving environments and conditions (ODD) and comply with the international standard of SAE J3016 "Driving Automation Level". In order to ensure thorough safety measures, the flow of people on the trial route will be blocked during the demonstration experiment. In addition, the trial will be conducted after a safety monitoring driver is on board the vehicle and a manned emergency control system for unforeseen situations is ensured to prepare for any potential risk.
*6 Sensible 4
*7 UD Active Steering
*8 ShinMaywa Industries, Ltd.
Watch the autonomous driving trial: