An autonomous rigid haul truck equipped with ASI's OEM agnostic vehicle automation kit.
Rio Tinto Autonomation Numbers Help Miners Invest in Vehicle Robotics with Confidence
Amidst global economic slowdowns, mining companies around the world have been exploring vehicle automation technology as a way to slash costs and improve efficiency in their operations. However, in the absence of concrete numbers proving the effectiveness of vehicle robotics, experts and critics have battled over its ability to make mining operations safer and more efficient. The wait is over as global mining major Rio Tinto released a variety of statistics that not only demonstrate vehicle robotics is effective but how effective.
Deep in the Australian outback, 1200 miles from the nearest major city, Perth, lies a rich mining region known as the Pilbara. Rio Tinto and other global mining majors such as BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) have established mining sites and infrastructures that ferry minerals from their extraction site all the way to port. The extensive networks include long haul routes that require massive mining trucks to transport loads approaching 400 tons (800,000 lbs).
For the past several years, Rio Tinto has operated 69 driverless trucks at three separate mining locations, gathering data on productivity differences between driverless and manned sites. The driverless trucks--equipped with vehicle robotics technology allowing a single command station to remotely coordinate and "drive" a network of vehicles--run 365 days a year and 24 hours a day without the need to halt operations for shift changes or other human needs. Each mining truck saves around 500 work hours per year, reports Australian ABC News. The ABC article quotes Rio Tinto mining manager Josh Bennett who touted the technology's repeatability and maintenance benefits as well as decreases in operator training costs.
In another article by UK's Financial Times, Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive Andrew Harding gives more hard numbers.
"Our autonomous fleet outperforms the manned fleet by an average of 12%, primarily by eliminating required breaks, absenteeism, and shift changes."
Harding continues, "We have also seen a 13% reduction in load and haul costs due to the greater efficiency."
With the release of these statistics by Rio Tinto, miners can invest in autonomous technology with greater confidence that they will experience long-term productivity gains.
Significant barriers to entry still exist, however, such as the upfront cost associated with committing to automation. OEM providers of autonomy, such as Komatsu and Caterpillar, may require replacement of fleet vehicles or converting to proprietary fleet management systems or infrastructure which may cost more than mining companies can afford.
As a third party provider, Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) can help to lower barriers to entry by providing an aftermarket automation kit that retrofits to existing equipment and infrastructures. By electing to use ASI's automation kit, miners are free to experience the long-term benefits of automation while maintaining their existing fleet and reducing conversion costs to fleet management software and communications infrastructures.