Autonomous truck trials flagged for BHP coal mines

In an attempt to improve productivity and reduce costs, BHP’s trial of driverless haul truck technology is set to expand from Pilbara iron ore mines to east coast coal mines.

In an attempt to improve productivity and reduce costs, BHP’s trial of driverless haul truck technology is set to expand from Pilbara iron ore mines to east coast coal mines.

BHP coal boss Dean Dalla Valle has revealed two coal mines in the company’s portfolio are set to test the autonomous trucks after successful trials in New Mexico.

“We’re looking at two opportunities in coal to do the same thing, in Queensland and NSW,”  Dalla Valle told The Australian.

“There’s no doubt it will happen, and I’d like to think that within 12 months we will be running trials.”

Last month the company announced it would expand its autonomous truck trials at iron ore sites across the Pilbara citing a number of reasons including safety and productivity as part of its push to implement the technology.

In mid-2014 the trial will include a second circuit at Jimblebar mine and an increase to the fleet, with six new trucks operating in the pits at nearby Wheelarra mine.

Dalla Valle said the technology would work well to haul coal.

“It’s slightly different but once the system’s up and running, it should work effectively in both,” he said.

“They are effectively the same model of trucks, just carrying a different product.”

While automation is becoming the norm in Western Australia, with Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill mine being purpose-built to accommodate the technology, coal trials on the east coast are still in their infancy.

The Meandu coal mine, run by Stanwell Corporation, was an early adapter, starting a three-year trial  in 2013 in conjunction with Hitachi Construction Machinery (Australia).

Accenture mining program and project manager Nigel Court told Australian Mining the way automation is being implemented by companies is changing.

"Automation is now being looked to not as a panacea to fix productivity and efficiency on site, rather "people are focusing on how it can be applied to solve specific problems encountered on site,” Court said.

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