Rio expands driverless haul trucks program to fifth mine
Date: Thursday, March 8, 2018
Source: The West Australian
Rio Tinto’s iron ore president Chris Salisbury has expanded on the company’s ambitions around automation of the mining giant’s sprawling Pilbara operations and the skills its workers will need to operate the mines of the future.
Speaking at a WestBusiness Leadership Matters breakfast in Perth this morning, Mr Salisbury said the company would expand its driverless trucks program to a fifth mine in the Pilbara later this month, with more assets to follow.
Rio’s West Angelas mine, owned by the Robe River Joint Venture, will have 15 trucks fitted with autonomous haulage system technology from May. The figure represents about 25 per cent of the total fleet in operation at West Angelas.
More than 25 per cent of Rio’s 380 haul-truck fleet in the Pilbara is already autonomous, with the miner expecting to have more than 130 trucks operating without drivers by next year.
Mr Salisbury’s comments follow news revealed by WestBusiness this morning that up to 200 people at Rio’s Brockman 4 and Marandoo mines would lose their jobs because of the transition to automated trucks.
However, he noted driverless trucks delivered an extra 700 hours more a year than their manned counterparts, representing an extra month’s work over the course of the year, as well as a perfect safety record.
The company is also working to deliver a completely automated, driverless operations for its 50 trains and 1200 ore cars operating over 1700km of track by the end of the year.
The so-called AutoHaul system will allow for more consistent train speeds and less downtime with no need to stop trains for driver changeovers.
Mr Salibury said the increasing use of automated operations would mean a change of roles for some employees.
“A truck driver from the Pilbara now monitors a fleet of autonomous trucks from the Operations Centre (at Perth Airport), a fitter now flies a drone to inspect an excavator whilst it is operating,” he said.
“As you could imagine, at an individual level, this takes considerable learning and re-training.
“Even if the fitter remains a fitter, they are likely to be reaching for a tablet as often as a spanner.”
Mr Salisbury said Rio was already investing in qualified mining professionals to ensure they stay ahead of the knowledge curve.
“All of these technologies require highly skilled people to design how we can deploy them, as well as operate, optimise and maintain them,” he said.
Mr Salisbury said the company had made a commitment last year to double the number of people it took on in training roles.
He said it was also critical that governments, industry, schools, TAFE colleges and universities worked together to ensure they were equipping tomorrow’s Australians with the skills needed to work in the mines of the future.
Last year Rio launched a partnership with the South Metropolitan TAFE to pioneer a new vocational curriculum required for robotics, data analytics and digital techniques.
Mr Salisbury said 1600 construction jobs and 600 new operational roles would open up if Rio gave the green light for its $2.7 billion Koodaideri mine later this year for construction to begin next year.
He said Koodaideri would be Rio’s first “intelligent mine”, using everything the company had learnt in automation and technology over the past 10 years.
Rio would also spend $4 billion in sustaining capital just keeping its existing operations continuing over the next three years.
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