Quarry Southern Africa May 2017 - Page 3

COMMENT Road to nowhere O ne of the main areas of focus in industry today is ‘disruptive technology’ and quarrying and related industries are not going to remain unaffected. Afrimat CEO Andries van Heerden singles out the combination of drones and autonomous vehicles as areas to watch, particularly as the possibility of automated passenger vehicles draws closer. “I can see drones – large, weight-bearing drones that can carry passengers and cargo – could possibly eliminate the need for roads in future,” says Van Heerden. “If you have an autonomous drone that is controlled by a supercomputer, a single road going into a city like Cape Town could be replaced by 50 or 60 lanes going through the air in three dimensions, you may eliminate the need for road aggregates, for instance.” And this possibility is not as futuristic or far off as you might think. Dubai is preparing to launch the world’s first passenger drone – an autonomous aerial taxi – in July this year. Commuters will be able to summon the EHang 184 from one of a number of designated zones to transport them to a selected drop- off zone. A prototype of the drone, which has already racked up over 200 test flights, was unveiled at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The 106kW quadcopter weighs 200kg and can fly at heights of up to 3 500m. Powered by eight propellers, the four-legged, egg-shaped vehicle has room for a single passenger weighing up to 100kg and a small suitcase. Though the aerial taxi can reach speeds of up to 160kph; Dubai’s transportation officials say it will typically operate at about 100kph. Once this is up and running, it is not a huge leap to increase the scale of operation, and while it will be a while before larger drones are both in production and affordable, it is easy to see where the future could lead. Another technology to watch is 3D printing. The progress that has been made in the field of 3D printing is already significant, and the impact it will have as its foothold grows is almost impossible to envisage, let alone calculate. We are already starting to visualise how far its influence could extend, and experts across a wide variety of fields predict that it will have a bigger economic impact than the internet has had. Its influence on the construction sector has already been noted, and at the end of February, the Northern European region’s first 3D construction printing conference took place in Copenhagen, Denmark. The aim of the conference was to discuss potential disruption in the industry from a more prevalent application of 3D technology. CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017 in March was another industry conference that felt the impact of 3D printing. This year’s theme was ‘Imagine what’s next’, and one of the displays was Project AME (additive manufactured excavator): the world’s first fully functional, 3D printed excavator. While only a prototype, Project AME allows us a glimpse of the potentially far-ranging impact of 3D printing on industry. And manufacturing is only one of the areas where 3D printing is having an impact on the construction sector. Another is 3D concrete printing, which enables companies to construct building components and, in some cases even entire buildings, using 3D printing. This is only the tip of the iceberg. It is virtually impossible for us to foresee in how many ways this technology will impact our lives in future, much as it was impossible for us to predict just how much change the internet would bring. For instance, what will happen when products no longer need to be shipped from the factory, but can be sent electronically and then printed and/or assembled on site, if the raw materials are available? How will this affect the quarrying and road construction industry? As is the case with weight-nearing drones, this might eliminate – or at least drastically reduce – the need for roads in future, and therefore the need for the materials used in their construction and maintenance. It is not to say that these changes, if they do come, will happen overnight. But it is a good idea to keep an eye on the trends, and think about the ramifications they might have on the industry in future, even if it is a long time coming. Robyn Grimsley - Editor robyn@interactmedia.co.za QUARRY SA | MAY 2017 _ 1