BHP Billiton to drive automation at Jimblebar

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BHP Billiton to drive automation at Jimblebar

Trucks to be delivered next year.

BHP Billiton plans to deploy as many 15 automated trucks at its Jimblebar iron ore mine in Western Australia.

A report by The Australian newspaper late last week revealed the project, which is to use Caterpillar trucks.

The miner's head of iron ore and coal, Marcus Randolph, made several digs at rival Rio Tinto, which has been far more vocal about its investment in automation technology via the Mine of the Future project.

In a separate report by The Age, Randolph said that technology could halve the number of workers required to operate and maintain a manually-driven truck.

However, that report noted BHP Billiton's long-term plan was do to away with trucks in the pit of some of its mines altogether, rather than focus on automating their operation from the pit to processing plant.

The Age quoted Randolph as saying that the mining giant is investigating the movement of processing plant closer to the ore, effectively reducing the need to truck the ore over long distances.

Randolph hit the speaking circuit after a presentation on wringing out more value from optimisation measures at BHP's global mines.

The slide deck (pdf), which was released by BHP, did not directly reveal the miner's Jimblebar plans, though it briefly touched on automation and the ongoing business process overhaul occuring under the 1SAP project.

Through the presentation, Randolph talked up the benefits of moving to a "low variability operation", which he explained as introducing predictability to operations through the use of standardised equipment.

A BHP Billiton spokesperson would not comment to iTnews specifically on the plans for Jimblebar, though she noted generally that "autonomous plant and equipment remains an attractive option" available to the firm.

"The company is currently trialling autonomous Caterpillar haul trucks at our operations in Navajo, New Mexico," the spokesperson said.

"BHP Billiton Iron Ore expects to trial autonomous haul trucks in [Australia in] the near future, however the introduction and timing of such technologies has not yet been established."

The spokesperson noted that BHP Billiton's integrated remote operations centre (IROC), which has commenced operation, would act as "an important supporting platform" for automation technology.

Rio Tinto shifting gears

Rival Rio Tinto is deploying 10 driverless Komatsu trucks in the Junction South East pit of its Yandicoogina mine, after completing trials for the technology at the nearby West Angelas mine.

The company is also planning a second production deployment of the driverless trucks at the Nammuldi iron ore mine, also in Western Australia.

Rio Tinto has spent considerable time and effort on wringing value from its existing truck fleet, and recently revealed some of the savings it had generated.

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