Australian mining group Rio Tinto announced in a statement on Monday it will work with manufacturers Caterpillar Inc. and Komatsu Ltd. on retrofitting a part of its haul trucks fleet to make them autonomous. The deal should make more than 130 conventional trucks run on Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) by 2019, making up 30% of its fleet in ore operations in the Pilbara. The project is a part of Rio Tinto’s $5 billion program to increase productivity, efficiency and safety.
“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.” the company’s Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said in a statement.
According to the company’s data from last year, autonomous haul trucks “operated an additional 1000 hours and at 15 per cent lower load and haul unit cost than conventional haul trucks.” The company expects the retrofit deal to deliver an additional $500 million of free cash flow annually from 2021. The autonomous system should also reduce safety risks and decrease exposure of employees to hazards, the statement notes. The whole project will be implemented through phases, planning completion by the end of 2019.
Rio Tinto pioneered autonomous technology back in 2008, and has already deployed the world’s first retrofitted and automated Komatsu haul truck in September at its Hope Downs 4 mine. It’s set to complete its new autonomous heavy haul train technology, AutoHaul, by the end of 2018, and it also operates Autonomous Drill Systems (ADS), used to drill production blast holes.
AHS technology enables trucks to run automatically or by a central controller, rather than a driver. Navigation is done with the help of a GPS system that uses pre-defined courses that include all haul roads and intersections.