The first two mines in the world to start moving all of their iron ore using fully remote-controlled trucks have just gone online in Western Australia’s Pilbara.
Mining giant Rio Tinto is running pits at its Yandicoogina and Nammuldi mine sites, with workers controlling the driverless trucks largely from an operations centre in Perth, 1,200 kilometres away.
Josh Bennett manages the mining operations at Yandicoogina mine north west of Newman and is closely involved with running 22 driverless trucks on the site.
The company is now operating 69 driverless trucks across its mines at Yandicoogina, Nammuldi and Hope Downs 4.
The trucks can run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without a driver who needs bathroom or lunch breaks, which has industry insiders estimating each truck can save around 500 work hours a year.
Mr Bennett said the technology takes away dangerous jobs while also slashing operating costs.
Rio’s plans do not stop at trucks. It is also trialling unmanned trains and mining with robot drills with the aim of rolling out the machines across as many of its mine sites as possible.
Eventually most of the company’s supply chain from the pit to the port will be remote controlled from Perth.
Rivals, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group are hot on Rio’s heels; both have launched into the new world of automated mining, trialling similar technology at their Pilbara mines.
With the decade-long mining boom pushing up wages and costs to unrealistic heights and ongoing scrutiny of safety in mines, it is a shift market commentator Giuliano Sala Tenna from Bell Potter Securities said was necessary for Australian producers to remain ahead of other global producers.
Rio plans to fully automate its trains by the middle of next year once the Office of Rail Safety includes the technology in its safety guidelines.