Rio’s AutoHaul becomes world’s largest robot | No redundancies expected

December 30, 2018 JOHN NINNESS

Rio Tinto has successfully deployed AutoHaul™, establishing the world’s largest robot and first automated heavy-haul, long distance rail network and has advised that it does not expect any driver redundancies in 2019.

Since completing the first loaded run in July, Rio Tinto has steadily increased the number of autonomous journeys across its world-class iron ore operations in Western Australia in a controlled and safe manner, with over 1 million kilometres now travelled autonomously.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director Rail, Port & Core Services Ivan Vella said “The safe and successful deployment of AutoHaul™ across our network is a strong reflection of the pioneering spirit inside Rio Tinto. It’s been a challenging journey to automate a rail network of this size and scale in a remote location like the Pilbara, but early results indicate significant potential to improve productivity, providing increased system flexibility and reducing bottlenecks.”

Over the coming months Rio Tinto said it would continue to refine its’ autonomous operations to ensure that they are able to maximise value. Rio will continue to work closely with drivers during this period and do not expect to make any redundancies in 2019 as a result of the deployment of AutoHaul™ (world’s largest robot).

The $940 million AutoHaul™ world’s largest robot programme is focused on automating trains transporting iron ore to Rio Tinto’s port facilities in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The network is the world’s first heavy-haul, long distance autonomous rail operation. Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1,700 kilometres of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.

The average return distance of these trains is about 800 kilometres with the average journey cycle, including loading and dumping, taking about 40 hours. Locomotives carrying AutoHaul™ software are fitted with on-board cameras allowing for constant monitoring from the Operations Centre.

Rio says that “All public rail crossings on the network are fitted with CCTV cameras and have been upgraded to the highest safety standards”

Rio Tinto was granted accreditation by Australia’s Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator in March approving the autonomous operation of trains at the group’s iron ore business in Western Australia according to Australasian Mining Review.

Consultancy group BDO has also been optimistic about the future of automation reporting that costs and productivity would improve across the industry. BDO forecasts half of mining jobs would be replaced by robots by 2020. Half of those miners would be retrained to run the technology in higher-skilled roles controlling the robots, according to BDO’s Near Future of Mining report.

In its’ report BDO reported that mining accidents would be cut by 75 per cent in 2020 as a result of the switch to robots.

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