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Australian Miner Found Employing Driverless Trucks

Australian Miner Found Employing Driverless Trucks

by Samburaj DasOctober 29, 2015

In an all-time first, Australian mining giant Rio Tinto is using two fully automated driverless truck fleets at its massive iron ore mines. It has to be said that the trucks themselves are massive as well, besides operating without a driver!

While Europe decides to regulate driverless trucks on roads with Mercedes-Benz providing a proof-of-concept on a real German highway, a mining company in Western Australia is already using driverless trucks to haul iron ore around its mining sites. These trucks are engaged and operated remotely, in an operations center in the city of Perth. 750 miles away.

RioTinto trucks

Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore chief executive, Andrew Harding has his reasons for employing driverless trucks instead of drivers.

Our autonomous fleet outperforms the named fleet by an average of 12 per cent, primarily by eliminating required breaks, absenteeism and shift changes.

He adds that “innovation and technology is critical in our efforts to improve safety,” speaking to the Financial Times.

It’s a time to cut costs for iron ore mines after the slowing economy of China and a relentless oversupply of the rocks from which metallic iron is extracted.

Iron ore prices have crashed to $53 currently from a peak of $190, a little under four times the current value. Citing these factors, the world’s biggest miners are looking at technology to lower costs. A driverless truck running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year does not require four drivers operating between shifts. When the numbers add up, each truck saves over 500 work hours every year.

Riotinto truck

Rio Tinto is the first miner to actively use the driverless tech-driven trucks in its mining operations. The company has 69 automated trucks in total, a fifth of which are in the Pilbara in Western Australia where its iron ore mines are. Altogether, the trucks move 20 million tonnes of iron ore a month from the mines in the 122 degrees heat.

The driverless trucks are already driving costs down, according to the mining company’s CEO Sam Walsh, who notes that the iron ore cash cost of $16.2 a tonne in the first half of this year is already down 21 percent from the corresponding period last year.

RioTinto Train

The company is also trialing a new technology with driverless trains as well as autonomous drills in its mining operations.

Images Copyright © 2015 Rio Tinto

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