RIO Tinto Iron Ore (RTIO) and Komatsu are making the mine of the future a reality.
The companies have launched a ground-breaking program to develop autonomous haulage solutions at RTIO’s Pilbara operations.
The whole-of-mine approach to fully integrate automation has been in R&D for many years, according to Rio Tinto Iron Ore spokesman Gervase Greene.
“Rio Tinto made the decision some time ago to implement a strategy of mining smarter, faster, and more efficiently than we have before,” Greene told Australian Mining.
The company has successfully trialled the remote operation of a Pilbara mine from a Perth-based Remote Operations Centre (ROC).
“We first operated the West Angelas mine from a makeshift office in St Georges Terrace,” Greene said.
Komatsu will develop and deploy advanced Autonomous Haulage solutions to support RTIO’s existing automated capability.
“Komatsu have built a package that wraps up a lot of individual automation technologies and applications, and will apply them as an integrated system,” Greene said.
“The full benefits of autonomous and automated operations will come into their own with new mines, specifically designed for this innovation,” he said.
“RTIO is studying how to increase Pilbara capacity to 320 Mtpa, and that will require 4-6 new mines.”
The push to fully-integrated automation and autonomous mining will remove staff from dangerous situations, and reduce labour costs.
“There will always be a role for people at our mine sites, RTIO is hiring thousands of new workers every year, but this will help minimise future workforce requirements,” Greene said.
The company will look to spread the technology across its global operations.
“It is early days for the autonomous haulage project, but any benefits the company extracts from it will go beyond the Pilbara,” Greene said.
“This project is being run by Rio Tinto’s Technology and Innovation Group, precisely because there are potential benefits elsewhere in the group,” he said.
New mines will be more suited to adopt the autonomous haul technology.
“The use of autonomous trucks can significantly change the way a pit is designed,” Greene said.
“Older mines would not be able to gain that same advantage from a pit that was designed to accommodate lots of workers.”