Rio Tinto has announced it will have more than 50% of its haul truck fleet operating autonomously by mid-2019, after it signed agreements with Caterpillar and Komatsu to convert old trucks to autonomous vehicles this week.
Rio said 29 Komatsu haul trucks at its Brockman 4 operation will be retrofitted with autonomous systems starting in 2018. Once complete, the mine will run entirely with autonomous trucks.
A further 19 Caterpillar trucks at the Marandoo mine will be retrofitted starting midway through 2018 – the first time the technology has been retrofitted on Caterpillar haul trucks, according to the miner.
The program is part of Rio’s plan to add $5 billion in additional cashflow via productivity improvements, from 2021.
Rio iron ore boss Chris Salisbury said rapid advances in technology would continue to revolutionise large-scale mining.
“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,” Salisbury said.
Salisbury said the company would continue to add more autonomous trucks to its Pilbara operation, and would work with its workforce to ensure a smooth transition.
Rio says its average autonomous haul truck operated 1,000 hours more than its average conventional truck in 2016, and at a 15% lower load and haul unit cost. Rio has also spoken about the safety benefits of automated haul trucks.
Currently around 20% of Rio’s fleet of almost 400 haul trucks is enabled for automated service.