BHP’s introduction of autonomous equipment at the $4.5 billion South Flank iron ore project in the Pilbara is under way.
The miner’s first autonomous drill rig, an Epiroc Pit Viper 271, recently broke ground at South Flank, marking the start of autonomous production drilling at the site.
BHP plans to operate five autonomous drill rigs at South Flank. The company will remotely control the drill rigs from its Integrated Remote Operations Centre (IROC) in Perth.
Epiroc has previously worked with BHP to deliver autonomous drilling technology to its Pilbara iron ore sites.
The equipment manufacturer, then known as Atlas Copco Construction and Mining, started a project to convert BHP’s Pit Viper 271 drill rigs to fully autonomous operation in mid-2016.
Epiroc completed the conversion of 18 rigs by mid-2017, giving BHP 20 autonomous drills across the Yandi, Mining Area C, Jimblebar, Mt Whaleback and Eastern Ridge sites at that point.
The 2016-2017 project followed a two-year trial at the Yandi mine, during which the drills operated autonomously for more than 15,000 hours, drilling more than one million metres.
Autonomous drilling at South Flank is the latest development milestone at the project for BHP, which turned the first sod at the site in July.
It then fired the first blast at the project in September.
BHP is targeting first production of iron ore at South Flank in 2021, with an initial mine life of at least 25 years.
The company expects the project will create more than 3000 jobs. South Flank is already providing significant opportunities for local contractors and businesses through the award of several lucrative contracts.