Rio Tinto to expand autonomous truck fleet in the Pilbara

A Cat 793F autonomous truck at the loading face. Image: Caterpillar

Rio Tinto will work with Caterpillar and Komatsu to expand its fleet of autonomous haul trucks in the Pilbara by more than 50 per cent by 2019.

The miner, which has launched the projects as part of its $5 billion productivity program, plans to retrofit 29 Komatsu haul trucks at the Brockman 4 operation with Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology, starting next year.

Brockman 4 will be run entirely in AHS mode once this project has been completed by 2019.

Rio will also retrofit 19 793F trucks with Caterpillar at the Marandoo iron ore mine. The equipment manufacturer will install Cat Command for hauling software for operation of the fleet as part of the project. It is expected the first few trucks at Marandoo will be retrofitted in mid 2018.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said the company was excited about starting this new chapter in its automation story with Caterpillar and Komatsu.

“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,” Salisbury said.

“We are studying future additions to our autonomous fleet in the Pilbara, based on value, to help deliver our 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.”

Rio’s autonomous haul trucks, on average, operated an additional 1000 hours and at 15 per cent lower load and haul unit cost than conventional haul trucks last year.

About 20 per cent 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 will have more than 130 autonomous trucks, representing about 30 per cent of the fleet.

Rio’s ramping up of its autonomous capabilities in the Pilbara is not just limited to haul trucks. In October, the company moved closer to developing a network of driverless trains in the region after completing its first fully autonomous rail journey, a 100km trip between Tom Price and Paraburdoo.

The company plans to fully commission the AutoHaul driverless train project by late 2018.

Caterpillar vice president – surface mining and technology, Jean Savage, said Cat was grateful to be working with Rio on the miner’s first installation of an autonomous haulage system.

“Working with WesTrac, we look forward to helping Rio Tinto enhance operations with our proven mining technology,” Savage said.

The Cat autonomous trucks system draws capabilities from the full range of Cat MineStar System technologies — Command, Terrain, Fleet, Detect and Health.  At Marandoo, the mine-wide implementation of Fleet, the scheduling-and-assignment and material tracking system, will mark Rio’s first use of the system.

Caterpillar is also working with Fortescue Metals Group to add more Cat Command autonomous technology to its Pilbara iron ore operations.

Fortescue’s expansion includes retrofitting around 100 Cat 793F and 789D and Komatsu 930E truck models at the Chichester Hub, as well as an expansion of the Cat 793F autonomous truck fleet at the Solomon Hub operations.