JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Mining giant Rio Tinto will expand its fleet of autonomous haul trucks at its iron-ore operations in the Pilbara by more than 50% by 2019, after signing agreements with manufacturers Caterpillar and Komatsu to convert traditional trucks to autonomous vehicles.
A total of 29 Komatsu haul trucks will be retrofitted with autonomous haulage system (AHS) technology starting next year. The project at the Brockman 4 operation is scheduled for completion by mid-2019, allowing the mine to run entirely in AHS mode once fully deployed.
A further 19 Caterpillar haul trucks at the Marandoo mine will also be retrofitted starting mid-2018 for completion by the end of 2019. The retrofit is significant for Rio Tinto as it marks the first time AHS technology has been deployed by the company on Caterpillar haul trucks.
Once completed, the retrofit projects are expected to make a significant contribution toward Rio Tinto’s $5-billion productivity programme, helping to underpin the continued delivery of superior returns for shareholders.
“We are excited to be starting a new chapter in our automation journey with a valued long-term partner in Caterpillar and we are proud to be extending our successful partnership with Komatsu on this world-first retrofitting initiative.
“Rapid advances in technology are continuing to revolutionise the way large-scale mining is undertaken across the globe. The expansion of our autonomous fleet via retrofitting helps to improve safety, unlocks significant productivity gains, and continues to cement Rio Tinto as an industry leader in automation and innovation,” Rio Tinto Iron Ore CEO Chris Salisbury said.
He added that the company was studying future additions to our autonomous fleet in the Pilbara, based on value, to help deliver its share of $5-billion of additional free cash flow for the company by 2021.
“Rio Tinto is committed to working closely with our workforce as we transition to AHS including providing opportunities for new roles, redeployment, retraining and upskilling.”
Automation is helping to improve productivity and efficiencies across Rio Tinto’s operations in the Pilbara. The retrofit programme will assist the iron-ore business in delivering an additional $500-million of free cash flow yearly from 2021. As part of this initiative, Rio Tinto is increasing scrutiny of each and every one of our cost components and have so far aggregated more than 3 500 employee ideas in the company’s productivity pipeline, many of which will deliver cost benefits.
Last year, on average, each of Rio Tinto’s autonomous haul trucks operated an additional 1 000 hours and at 15% lower load and haul unit cost than conventional haul trucks. About 20% of the existing fleet of almost 400 haul trucks in the Pilbara is AHS-enabled. Following the completion of the projects with Komatsu and Caterpillar, Rio Tinto will have more than 130 autonomous trucks, representing about 30% of the fleet.
From a safety perspective, automation has been shown to reduce the number of people exposed to potential hazards as well as reduce the number of critical risk scenarios.