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Miners Investing in Autonomous Operations to Improve Efficiency

Miners like BHP, VALE, RIO and NEM are investing in technology for improved front-line safety, increased production levels and efficiency while loweri...

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This story originally appeared on Zacks

Miners are bringing about radical changes to mining operations with the help of technology and automation, in an effort to increase productivity and efficiency, reduce costs, and improve frontline safety. More importantly, these efforts will help the industry meet its sustainability target by cutting down on carbon emissions, which is the need of the hour considering the severity of climate change.



To this end, Brazilian miner Vale S.A VALE announced that it has started operating six autonomous haul trucks in Carajás — its largest iron ore complex in Brazil and plans to take it up to 10 vehicles by this year-end. These autonomous trucks have the capability of moving 320 metric tons at a time. These have been undergoing tests in an isolated area in Carajás since 2019. Following the final testing phase at the N4E mine last week, the plan went live on Sep 1 this year. At the Carajás Complex, Vale already has four autonomous drills in operation. The company has plans to increase it to seven drills.



This follows the success of the autonomous operation at Vale’s second largest mine, Brucutu, in Minas Gerais, Brazil, in 2016. It was the first mine in Brazil to run with 100% autonomous operations. In July this year, the 13 haul trucks in operation at the mine achieved the milestone of moving 100 million tons of material since their introduction. Impressively, no accident has been reported by the trucks over the past five years as well.



The move is not only ensuring safety in mining but also aiding the company in attaining its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 33% until 2030. Autonomous trucks offer increased machine and tire life, higher speed than traditional vehicles while consuming less fuel. This leads to lower carbon dioxide and particulate emissions. They offer higher hourly productivity and will lower maintenance costs as well.



Vale has earmarked $34 million this year for its autonomous program. By the end of the year, 23 trucks, 21 drills and four stocking yards (stackers and reclaimers) will be in operation across the company in four Brazilian states (Pará, Minas Gerais, Maranhão and Rio de Janeiro).



Mining giant, BHP Group BHP has been operating a fully-autonomous truck fleet at its Western Australian Jimblebar mine since 2017. The site is now one of the safest operations in its portfolio, with significant events involving trucks at Jimblebar having dropped by more than 90% since the introduction of autonomous haulage. Following its success, BHP is implementing the transition of an autonomous fleet of up to 86 trucks at its Goonyella Riverside coal mine in Queensland in a phased roll out over the 2021-2022 period. The company has announced that it will introduce 20 autonomous trucks at its Newman East (Eastern Ridge) mine in Western Australia.



Rio Tinto plc Plc RIO boasts of the world’s first automated heavy-haul rail network named AutoHaul, which was capable of moving about one million ton of iron ore a day in 2019. About one-third of the haul truck fleet across its Pilbara sites is autonomous as well. It continues to expand its Autonomous Drilling System (ADS), which currently has a fleet of 26 production drills across seven sites. It intends to make the Gudai-Darri iron ore mine in Western Australia’s Pilbara region one of the world’s most technologically advanced mines. Rio Tinto has joined forces with Caterpillar Inc. CAT to deploy the world’s first fully autonomous water truck at the mine. Water spraying is a vital part of mining operations, thus, this will enhance productivity by enabling digital tracking of water consumption and cutting down water wastage. Caterpillar’s three water trucks will join Gudai-Darri’s fleet of Caterpillar heavy mobile equipment including autonomous haul trucks and production drills.



Last year, Newmont Mining Corporation NEM announced investment in implementation of the Autonomous Haulage System at Boddington mine in Australia to enhance safety and productivity, while extending mine life. Once operational, Boddington will be the first open pit gold mine in the world with a fully autonomous haul truck fleet.



Given its benefits to the miners, the driverless fleet is becoming increasingly popular among miners. The number of autonomous trucks is expected to surge over the next few years, thanks to major investments by miners globally.



BHP, Vale, Rio Tinto and Newmont currently carry a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

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