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Global mining giants pick autonomous trucks to cut costs

Since its first commercial deployment in 2008 at Codelco’s Gabriela Mistral copper mine in Chile and at Rio Tinto’s iron ore mine in Australia, the Komatsu AHS has experienced exponential growth in cumulative production, breaking the one billion-tonne mark in 2016 and the 1.5 billion-tonne mark in late 2017. This was accomplished with more than 130 autonomous trucks in operation to date.

At present, the Front Runner AHS operates around the clock, hauling copper, iron, and oil sands at seven sites on three continents. An additional 150 trucks will be deployed to the Canadian oil sands over the next seven years.

Also in November last year, Caterpillar ported that its mining trucks fitted with the Cat Command system had reached the one billion-tone haulage milestone. Trucks equipped with Cat Command respond to shovel calls, move into position, haul materials to dump points, and report for maintenance, all without an operator on board.

Caterpillar deployed its first six commercial autonomous trucks in 2013, and its fleet has now grown to more than 150, with six different mining companies in Australia, South America, and North America using the vehicles. The current Cat autonomous truck fleet comprises Cat 793F, Cat 797F, and Cat 789D, with respective payloads of 227t, 363t, and 181t.

Commenting on the milestone, product manager at Caterpillar Mining Technology, Sean McGinnis, said: “In the process of hauling one billion tonnes, the autonomous trucks travelled nearly 35 million kilometers, with no lost-time injuries attributed to Cat autonomous haulage. Hauling commands have demonstrated how safety can be enhanced by eliminating truck operating errors and by reducing the number of people working in the active mining area.”

Mining companies worldwide – particularly those in Chile, Australia, and Canada – are making the transition from manned to unmanned truck fleets. Autonomous haul trucks are operated by a supervisory system and a central controller instead of a driver. They use pre-defined GPS courses to navigate haul roads and intersections, and to determine the locations, speeds, and directions of other vehicles. Implementing autonomous haulage means more material can be moved efficiently and safely, creating a direct increase in productivity.