Key mining heavyweight Rio Tinto recently announced that it has increased its fleet of autonomous trucks at four of its major iron ore mines in Western Australia.
The announcement was made by Rio Tinto’s CEO, Sam Walsh, in an address at the company’s 2014 Annual General Meeting in London last month.
Rio Tinto employs driverless, autonomous Komatsu 150 dump trucks at its Yandicoogina, Hope Downs 4, Nammuldi and West Angelas iron ore mines in WA’s Pilbara region. While it took four years for the autonomous trucks to shift the first 100 million tonnes of material, Walsh said the high-tech fleet – which now numbers 53 vehicles – shifted 150 million tonnes of ore last year, up from 100 million tonnes in the previous year.
“To put this into perspective, this [150 million tonnes] would amount to filling Wembley Stadium approximately 80 times,” Walsh told those at the AGM.
The Komatsu 150 dump truck weighs 502 tonnes can move up to a staggering 290 tonnes per load. The vehicle measures 15.6m long and stands 7.37m tall when empty, while its 16-cylinder Komatsu diesel engine pumps out around 2014kW (2700hp) at 1900rpm.
Walsh said the driverless vehicles had made a significant positive impact on haul cycle times and offered lower fuel usage, greater tyre life, and lower overall maintenance costs.
Rio Tinto is not the only mining company currently exploring the benefits of such innovative equipment. BHP Billiton recently announced it would be expanding its fleet of autonomous trucks in the Pilbara this year.
Six such trucks have been working at the firm’s newest iron ore mine in the Pilbara, the Jimblebar mine, about 40km east of Newman. A further six autonomous trucks will soon be pressed into service at the neighbouring Wheelarra mine.
At the recent official opening of the Jimblebar mine, BHP Billiton’s President of Iron Ore, Jimmy Wilson, said the autonomous trucks brought with them many benefits.
“The use of autonomous haul trucks has the potential to introduce safety benefits by removing people from potentially hazardous environments; increasing the predictability and productivity of haulage operations; providing new employment and training opportunities for our people; and reducing the labour intensity of future mining operations,” he said.
BHP Billiton also says the autonomous trucks will soon be trialled at several coal mines in Queensland and New South Wales in coming months.
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