Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine most technologically advanced in Pilbara

Rio Tinto’s cutting edge Gudai-Darri mine in Western Australia’s Pilbara has officially been opened.

Since development began in April 2019, 14 million work hours have culminated in the delivery of Rio Tinto’s 17th iron ore mine, which has a capacity of 43 million tonnes per annum.

It is the company’s most technologically advanced iron ore mine in the region, featuring some of the most front-line equipment, including a robotic ore sampling laboratory which provides visibility of the ore grades out of the mine within minutes.

There are autonomous trucks, trains and drills, which are standard across many of Rio Tinto’s Pilbara mines, and a digital replica of the processing plant which allows teams to quickly test different situations digitally before implementing.

With an expected mine life of more than 40 years, Gudai-Darri expects to increase iron ore production volumes from the second half of this year and reach capacity in 2023.

Rio Tinto is building a 34 megawatt solar farm consisting of 83,000 solar panels that will power one-third of the mine’s electricity needs, with completion expected in August 2022.

The iron ore miner also has plans to develop a one gigawatt solar and wind power operation in the Pilbara, which could be seven times bigger than Western Australia’s largest solar farm.

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan said the multi-billion dollar investment in Western Australia would boost the economy and its 40-year mine life would support thousands of jobs into the future.

“Western Australia offers a stable investment environment – we have a strong economy, highly-skilled workforce, and world-class mineral resources backed by industry-leading mining and logistics infrastructure. This means our state is well-placed for the future,” he said.

Present at the opening ceremony along with representatives of Pilbara Traditional Owners, the Banjima People, Mines and Petroleum Bill Johnston said Rio Tinto’s innovation and sustainability was a prototype of the mine of the future.

“Once the new solar farm is complete, it will be able to power one-third of Gudai-Darri’s operational needs with renewable energy. This will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 90,000 tonnes a year, which is the same amount produced by 6000 Australian homes each year,” he said.

Gudai-Darri brings together a suite of innovations, including:

  • Autonomous trucks and drills

Gudai-Darri has 23 CAT 793F autonomous haul trucks and three CAT MD6310 autonomous drills. The trucks implement real-time ore tracking using sensors to provide live dig face progression, while data-informed modelling from the drills helps to build more accurate assessments of existing ground conditions and improve safety. In collaboration with Caterpillar, Rio Tinto is advancing the development of zero-emissions autonomous haul trucks. Once development is complete, it is anticipated the world’s first operational deployment of Caterpillar 793 zero-emissions autonomous haul trucks will be at Gudai-Darri.

  • The world’s first autonomous water carts

The new vehicles, developed in partnership with Caterpillar, are primarily used for dust suppression on site, enhancing productivity by enabling mine operations to digitally track water consumption and reduce waste. The vehicle’s intelligent on-board system detects dry and dusty conditions on site, triggering the application of water to roads to keep them in good condition.

  • Autonomous trains (AutoHaul)

Fully operational in June 2019, AutoHaul was the world’s first fully autonomous long distance, heavy-haul rail network. The autonomous train is monitored remotely by operators from the Operations Centre in Perth more than 1500 kilometres away.

  • Rio Tinto’s first rotable bucketwheel reclaimer

Traditionally reclaimer maintenance requires a prolonged shutdown while several components are removed. This patented world first will enable the entire bucket wheel module to be changed out for maintenance, improving safety and efficiency

  • Robotic ore sampling laboratory

The Gudai-Darri laboratory is fully automated and integrated with our mine. Production samples (both lump and fines) enter the lab via a conveyer from the sample station and will be transferred to the automated production cell by a robot. This facility will provide excellent visibility of the ore grade being stockpiled on site.

  • Robotics in Heavy Mobile Equipment warehouse

The heavy mobile equipment (HME) warehouse is the home to four automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) designed to automate the handling of pallet frames. The introduction of AGVs to the warehouse will reduce manual handling and improve safety with the introduction of laser obstacle scanners and auto stop functions.

  • Paperless field mobility

The company is using technology to provide its people with in-field access to real-time data – connecting teams to each other, to work and to assets. Through tablets, team members can access many of the applications they require out in the field thereby eliminating the need for paper-based systems and reducing unnecessary travel.

  • ‘Digital twin’ asset

The digital asset will be a first within Rio Tinto and will enable team members to visually navigate the asset, plan their work using a (to scale) 3D model and view or download associated technical data and documents. The same digital asset data is used to provide a feature rich, interactive 3D environment for virtual reality training.

  • Solar farm

The solar farm consists of about 83,000 solar panels made up of photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity. Capacity is up to 34MW and is expected to supply about a third of the mine’s average electricity demand once construction is complete in August.

About Ray Chan

Editor of industrial titles and mastheads with Prime Creative Media. Publications include Rail Express and Australian Mining (web content).

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