Rio Tinto makes a case for mine automation

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Rio Tinto makes a case for mine automation

Some jobs to go but 'benefits outweigh costs'.

Rio Tinto has moved to dispel what it calls "misplaced" concerns over the impact of automation technologies on mining jobs in Australia.

The mining giant today released a report [pdf] it commissioned Canberra-based consultancy BAEconomics to prepare.

The BAEconomics report warns that while some traditional mining roles will be lost "over time", the impact of not automating mine sites would have a broader impact on jobs growth in Australia.

The report directly links the rise of automation to the future "competitiveness" of Australia's miners.

Mining companies faced a series of competitive challenges, including the increased difficulty in accessing quality deposits and costs associated with meeting health, safety and environmental regulations.

By contrast, countries that were only beginning to tap natural resource deposits did not operate under the same regulatory and cost pressures, the report argues.

"In order to succeed in the global market place, Australian mining businesses must therefore innovate and change their operations to at least match the costs of their international competitors," the report noted.

"While non-traditional producers face a number of hurdles in bringing their mines to full production, it is clear that a significant development effort with associated large capital flows is directed toward emerging mining industries in these countries.

"Unless Australian producers remain competitive, future production is likely to shift to those countries that are today catching up rapidly."

The report warns that a loss of competitiveness could impact exports and "slow employment and income growth across Australian states and territories, as well as sectors, in particular the services sector."

The report acknowledges that increased automation will "reduce overall employee numbers" but says that pulling workers out of volatile environments will reduce the number of fatalities recorded each year.

It also says that automation will foster growth in technically advanced roles that are based in metropolitan areas where it is easier to attract workers.

Rio Tinto is a major proponent of remote control and automated systems in mines. It has an operations centre in Perth where it controls a number of aspects of its Pilbara mines remotely.

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