Autonomous trucks and autonomous drills are on the agenda for Pilbara, Western Australia iron ore miner Roy Hill.
By taking the autonomous path, Roy Hill follows in the footsteps of its larger iron ore mining peers Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue Metals Group, all of which have autonomous drills and trucks.
Speaking on the sidelines of the International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne, Roy Hill CEO Barry Fitzgerald said that the company had commissioned its third autonomous drill and would have the remaining six commissioned by the end of the year.
Fitzgerald said the autonomous drill technology had come from a non-original equipment maker source.
On the truck front, it looks like Roy Hill will go with the Caterpillar autonomous solution. The mine started off using Caterpillar 793F trucks as its main haulage option. One of the benefits of the Caterpillar autonomous haulage solution is that it can be retrofitted to existing trucks – something competitor Komatsu does not offer at this stage.
However, complicating things is the fact that Roy Hill recently ordered 24 Hitachi EH5000 trucks. While Hitachi is developing an autonomous haulage solution of its own – it is being trialled at Stanwell Corporation’s Meandu mine in Queensland – a commercial version of the technology is not expected until 2019 or 2020.
Caterpillar can, however, also retrofit its system to other OEMs’ trucks, something it is doing at FMG where it will be converting Komatsu 930E trucks to autonomous operation.
Fitzgerald hinted that the Caterpillar trucks in Roy Hills 90-strong truck fleet would probably be converted first. “We are of the view that autonomous trucks are the way of the future, which is a major industry trend,” he said. “At this point in time, we are working towards starting the phased-implementation properly in the second half of next year. The implementation model of that is being driven by resources, and as we develop the pits, we need to do it pit by pit by pit. We have Caterpillar trucks, and we also have Hitachi trucks, which are starting to be delivered.
“We are open-minded about what our autonomous solution is. We have actually gone for a non-OEM solution on the autonomous drills so. We will go to what is most appropriate for us and what is the most cost-effective. Obviously, there are a lot of viable providers of that technology, and we need to work out what’s best for us. We do have Caterpillar trucks, and I think those trucks are probably the ones that will go first.”
Fitzgerald admitted that the introduction of autonomous haulage would have some impact on staffing and may lead some people to leave the company. “People do need to achieve their potential, and I think you’ll see there will be some people that will be reskilled and retrained, some people may choose not to stay with us because they like driving trucks, and so we will continue to train and develop people, and we expect to redeploy,” he said.
Fitzgerald said there might be a reduction in people long-term.