Fortescue Metals Group has begun a long-awaited expansion of autonomous trucks to its Cloudbreak and Christmas Creek mines, with expectations of achieving similar 20 percent improvements in haul productivity.
The two iron ore mines together form the Chichester Hub. FMG has run autonomous trucks at its Solomon Hub mines – Firetail and Kings Valley – since 2012.
The miner has used previous investor briefings to promise the expansion of the autonomous haulage system to its Chichester Hub mines, and today said work was underway.
In total, about 100 trucks are to be converted to autonomous operation across the two Chichester mines. It appears the project could take up to three years, though the first benefits are expected to accrue this financial year.
FMG said it would need to upgrade the “IT network” at both its Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak sites to support the autonomous haulage operations.
This is likely to involve the deployment of a wireless mesh network, though FMG did not provide details.
In addition to the expansion to new sites, up to 12 more trucks at the existing Solomon Hub operations are also in line for conversion to autonomous operations.
That could see the number of trucks at the original sites grow from 56 currently up to as many as 68 vehicles. This is higher than figures foreshadowed by one of the contractors working on the project back in April.
The Chichester Hub presently has an annual production capacity “in excess of 90 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) from three ore processing facilities (OPFs)".
Fortescue CEO Nev Power said the expansion of autonomous trucks would help keep FMG “at the lowest end of the global cost curve”.
“Our focus remains on improving safety and increasing productivity and efficiency to deliver ongoing cost reductions,” he said in a statement.