Imagine a single battery capable of illuminating 20 homes day and night or powering over 300 households during peak demand. This isn’t a vision of the future – it’s our present reality, thanks to the collective engineering efforts of the First Mode team and our valued project partners.

Within the First Mode office in Perth, Western Australia, Mechatronics Engineer William Oakley plays a pivotal role in First Mode’s mission to lead the diesel-free future. Recently, he spearheaded the initial development of battery packs for First Mode’s dynamic offering of electrified haulage solutions. Today, he is giving us a “peek under the hood” by taking us through the engineering process to design critical components for one of the world’s largest electrified vehicle powertrains.

Fulfilling a Passion for Dynamic Challenges

With a bachelor’s degree in Mechatronics, Robotics, and Automation Engineering from Curtin University in Western Australia, William brings a robust technical background to his work. A fan of fast-paced, ever-evolving projects that make an impact on the world, he was drawn to the innovative culture of First Mode. Now at the forefront of the emerging clean energy transition in heavy haulage, William is thriving in an environment where problem solving demands flexibility and adaptability.

“Supporting the mining industry’s efforts to go green fuels my passion for First Mode’s critical work daily,” he shared. “Growing up in Western Australia in close proximity to the industry, I am proud that my work will reduce the industry’s impact on climate change – for my region, country and the world.”

In early 2023, the Perth engineering team started exploring battery solutions for what would become First Mode’s expanded new product line of decarbonization solutions. Consisting of a trio of electrified retrofit options for haulage vehicles, the line provides customers stepwise options for beginning, progressing, and succeeding on their path to zero emissions haulage. This includes Hybrid, Battery, and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) retrofits that build upon the success of the completed DT74 proof-of-concept truck, the world’s largest fuel cell electric vehicle that First Mode developed in partnership with Anglo American.

Approaching an Uncharted Product

An innovative, new-to-market product line requires an equally innovative battery system – a collaboration between the vehicle and battery teams was a natural next step since they share an interface system within the vehicle.

As a key member of the battery team, William was instrumental in designing and building the low voltage (LV) power distribution system for the battery management and control systems leveraged across First Mode’s product mix. A key to success was their prioritization of building a deep understanding of operational requirements unique to mining environments, making balanced decisions to create a robust and sustainable battery system capable of withstanding rigorous mine site conditions.

“We faced a number of challenges along the way, but by far the greatest challenge was creating a battery at such an enormous scale,” William explained, as ultra-class mining haul trucks can stand three stories tall. “Integrating various products from different applications to the demanding mining environment means that we’ve had to balance multiple decisions to build a battery that will sustainably survive mine site operations and match the productivity of a diesel-fueled engine.”

A natural systems-level thinker, William leveraged his prior experience in off-grid energy storage systems to also build a DC “micro” grid in First Mode’s Perth workshop, allowing the team to test large battery systems at high power and establish safe procedures and operational methods for them – which represent critical elements of First Mode’s approach to custom, sustainable zero-emission haulage ecosystems.

Innovating for Improved Efficiency and Reliability

Efficiency and reliability are paramount in the success of new products on mine sites. William ensured the operational success of the battery system by overseeing the design of its robust LV wiring system. Collaborating with an external partner specializing in mine site wiring solutions, the team implemented rigorous testing procedures and quality control measures to meet industry standards and ensure safety.

The First Mode Perth battery and engineering team gathered around the final battery pack.

The First Mode battery pack also contains a parallel LV power and control architecture – a unique design feature in which power and control functions are separated and operate independently, but also in parallel. Developed in part thanks to William, this innovation enhances fault tolerance and allows the battery to operate in a limp mode in the event of rare battery subpack failures. It also ensures continuous vehicle operation even under challenging circumstances, a crucial aspect for mine site operations with strict schedules.

“Operational efficiency and reliability of the battery system is extremely important to the success of our products on a mine site, so it was imperative that we built something that will last,” he explained. “It would be detrimental and potentially dangerous to experience wiring faults on the battery, so we designed the LV wiring system to be safe and suitable for any mining site environment.”

Key Lessons and Pride in Green Solutions

When designing with production intent, demonstrating the viability of solutions early in the development process is essential for finalizing the first version of a product. After months of shock and vibration analysis, electrical enclosure design, fault current analysis, and fuse protection calculation and coordination, the first First Mode battery pack is expected to be used for demonstration at the First Mode Proving Grounds in 2024 and scaled production and delivery will begin in 2025.

“If you have an idea on how to solve a problem, try to show that it works early on. Use what you have available to build it and then test, test, and test! Our team knows that the smallest details matter, so we are ruthless in uncovering any potential issues before a product can be assembled because we are committed to quality solutions for our customers.”

In the capable hands of engineers like William Oakley, First Mode continues to shape the diesel-free future with solutions that redefine the boundaries of clean energy in the mining sector. His story exemplifies the dedication, innovation, and commitment to safety and sustainability that propels First Mode along the Path to Zero.