Rio Tinto is set to retrofit 34 existing haul trucks at its Robe River joint venture mines with autonomous technology under a major investment in the area’s operations.
In a financial filing, Rio Tinto said that it - together with its Japanese partners in the project: Mitsui, Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Industries - would collectively invest $1.55 billion to “sustain production capacity” in two Western Australian mining areas.
The partners will put $967 million into developing the Mesa B, C and H deposits at Robe Valley; the adjacent Mesa A mine was opened in 2010.
In addition, another $579 million will go into developing deposits C and D at the existing West Angelas operations.
“These investments enable Rio Tinto to sustain production of the Pilbara Blend, the world's most recognised brand of iron ore, and its Robe Valley lump and fines products, which are highly valued by long-term customers,” the miner said in a statement.
“Subject to government and environmental approvals, construction of both projects is expected to start next year with an estimated 1200 jobs created during this phase. First ore is currently anticipated from 2021.”
West Angelas has long been a testbed for autonomous technology under Rio Tinto’s previous Mine of the Future project.
It was the site of a multi-year, five-truck trial of autonomous trucks that would provide the evidence for broader rollout of the technology.
West Angelas was also key to the development of Rio Tinto’s RTVis tool for operational visualisation; 900,000 extra tonnes of product was extracted from the site as a result of that technology in the first year alone.
RTVis saw Rio Tinto land an iTnews Benchmark Award in 2015.
Both the expansion of West Angelas and the new Mesa mines will use autonomous trucks.
“Once operational, both projects will feature the latest technology with 34 existing haul trucks to be retrofitted with autonomous haulage system (AHS) technology, delivering safety and productivity gains to the business,” Rio Tinto said.