Rio Tinto to double autonomous drill fleet

Rio operating in the Pilbara. Copyright © 2017 Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto plans to double its fleet of autonomous drills in order to “create a safer working environment and boost productivity across its world-class iron ore operations in Western Australia”, according to a statement released today.

Currently, Rio has seven autonomous drills in operation at the West Angelas mine in the Pilbara, Western Australia and recently retrofitted four drills with autonomous drill system (ADS) technology at the Yandicoogina mine (also in the Pilbara).

Following this new announcement of a ramp-up in autonomous drill usage, Rio plans to introduce nine more drills by the end of the year, bringing its total fleet to 20.

According to Kellie Parker, Rio Tinto managing director, planning, integration and assets, iron ore, the expansion will bring significant productivity gains, bringing improved accuracy and consistency while also enabling safer drilling.

“The deployment of additional rigs, operated from our operations centre in Perth, offers significant advantages as part of our integrated system, which optimises our autonomous trains, trucks and drills and provides increased operability and flexibility,” Parker said.

“As pioneers of automation and innovation, we continue exploring new technologies to ensure Rio Tinto remains a leader in the global mining industry.”

Rio has long been a purveyor of automated technology particularly across its fleet of trucks. It conducted its first autonomous drill tests at West Angelas in 2008 and is currently deep into testing of its autonomous train system, which is expected to launch by the end of this year.

So far, Rio’s 11 automated drills have drilled more than 5000km.