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Rio Tinto

Cat 793F autonomous trucks at loading face.

Rio Tinto has set a target of 80 per cent autonomous haul trucks in 2022, as it seeks to reduce costs while satisfying demand for materials.

Speaking at Rio Tinto’s investor seminar on October 20, Iron Ore chief executive Simon Trott explained the need for more efficient mining operations.

“Our work index has increased by around 40 per cent over the last three years with higher strip ratios and longer haul distances,” Trott said.

“Focusing on waste movement and maintaining pit health is a priority. The amount of waste we need to move each year is increasing.

“Our strip ratio was 1.4 in 2018 and has increased year on year to 1.8 in 2021, placing upwards pressure on our mining costs and reinforcing the importance of our productivity programme.”

This has led to a need for more autonomous vehicle activity for Rio Tinto and results have already been realised by the company.

In the last three years, Rio’s haul truck utilisation has improved by 5 per cent, according to Trott, while maximum payloads have also been handled better.

The 80 per cent autonomous haulage target will come off the back of a record year for Rio Tinto, as 2021 is forecast to see the commissioning of more autonomous haul trucks than any other.

Trott says haulage is only one part of the cost reduction and mine performance improvements going on at Rio Tinto.

“In addition to load and haul fleet productivity, I am expanding our focus to mine 40 development activities, including drill and blast – where we are focusing on improving broken stocks to build resilience,” Trott said.

Rio’s Gudai-Darri iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia will contribute significantly to the company’s autonomous targets, after multiple contracts were signed with Caterpillar for the technology.

These contracts included autonomous Caterpillar 793 zero-emission haul trucks to be tested and deployed under a prototype pilot program at Gudai-Darri.

The 220-tonne haul trucks will work alongside Caterpillar’s autonomous water trucks, in a further step to reduce emissions and improve productivity.

Gudai-Darri is set to begin operations in the first quarter of 2022.