Almost 30% of Rio Tinto's mining trucks will be automated within two years

Automated wheel changer. Image: Rio Tinto.

  • Mining giant Rio Tinto is expanding its driverless truck program.
  • By 2019 the company will have 130 autonomous trucks, or 30% of its fleet.
  • At one mine in Western Australia, the truck fleet will be fully automated.

Rio Tinto is expanding its fleet of autonomous haul trucks, controlled from Perth, Western Australia, at its iron ore operations in the Pilbara.

The project at the Brockman 4 operation is due for completion by mid-2019, allowing the mine to run entirely with autonomous haul trucks.

A total of 29 Komatsu haul trucks will be retrofitted with Autonomous Haulage System technology starting next year.

The project will expand Rio’s autonomous haul trucks by more than 50% by 2019 after signing agreements with manufacturers Caterpillar and Komatsuto to convert traditional trucks.

Rio Tinto will end up with more than 130 autonomous trucks, representing about 30% of its fleet, following the completion of the projects with Komatsu and Caterpillar.

Rio says the retrofitting will make a significant contribution toward Rio Tinto’s $5 billion productivity program.

“Rapid advances in technology are continuing to revolutionise the way large-scale mining is undertaken across the globe,” says Chris Salisbury, Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore chief executive.

“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.

“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.”

Last year, each of Rio Tinto’s autonomous haul trucks on average operated an additional 1,000 hours and at 15% lower load and haul unit cost than conventional trucks.

The auto system allows trucks to be operated by a central controller rather than a driver. It uses pre-defined GPS courses to automatically navigate roads and intersections and knows actual locations, speeds and directions of all vehicles at all times.

Rio Tinto started deploying autonomous technology in 2008.

The Perth Operations Centre is the nerve centre of Rio Tinto’s autonomous operation with around 400 people monitoring Pilbara operations in real-time.

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