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Queensland Coal comprises the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) and BHP Mitsui Coal (BMC) assets in the Bowen Basin in Central Queensland, Australia. Source: BHP

BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) is set to introduce 34 autonomous trucks at the Daunia coal mine in central Queensland through a $100 million investment.

The first Caterpillar autonomous trucks will start work from February next year, with the full rollout expected to complete by the end of 2021.

BMA asset president James Palmer said the move would result in $35 million in contract awards for at least 10 regional and Indigenous businesses.

Queensland’s auto electrical and mechanical services provider, NB Industries will complete the light vehicle fleet conversion, and Brisbane-based radio communication experts, Radlink Communications will install wireless communication hardware across the Daunia mine.

The rollout will also create 150 additional project roles for BMA employees and contractors, on top of 56 new permanent roles on site.

“We have engaged with our workforce at Daunia over the previous 18 months on the possible rollout of autonomous haulage,” Palmer said.

“Our people have told us that they are eager for new job opportunities and skills. That is why we are confident this is the right decision for Daunia.

“There will be no job losses as a result of this decision, and anyone who currently works with us, be it an employee or labour hire worker, will be given the opportunity to continue to do so.”

Hastings Deering chief executive Dean Mehmet said the Daunia contract was also a huge boost to its local central Queensland business.

“We will need 30 additional people to support the work that is required to convert the trucks and ancillary mining fleet into autonomous vehicles at Daunia,” he said.

“It’s exciting work to build on that allows us to grow and develop local talent to deliver technology solutions into the resources sector.”

BMA will deliver around 30,000 hours of training, spanning from general awareness to extensive training for equipment operators, to interaction with the autonomous haul trucks in preparation of Daunia’s autonomous transition.

“We understand this decision represents some change. But it also offers a unique opportunity for people to gain new, highly valued skills that will create additional opportunities for growth into the future,” Palmer said.

“It will further increase safety and performance and help the mine remain competitive over the long-term.”

BHP had planned to introduce up to 500 additional autonomous trucks at its iron and coal operations in Australia, a plan that the company revealed in July last year.

This is a tenfold increase of BHP’s fleet at the Jimblebar iron ore mine in Western Australia.

BMA introduced autonomous haulage at its first site, the Goonyella Riverside coal mine this year. The operation would undergo a staged conversion to a fleet of up to 86 Komatsu trucks over two years.

It has spent nearly half of its $8.2 million planned investment in the Goonyella Riverside project by mid-June.