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AHS truck fleet to support reduction in operating costs at Australia’s iron ore mines
Mining companies across the globe are increasingly embracing automation in their quest to boost efficiency and reduce human labor. In Australia, automation in mining industry began with the implementation of Komatsu’s Automatic Hauling System (AHS) at Rio Tinto’s Pilbara iron ore operations in 2008. Leading data and analytics company GlobalData predicts that AHS truck fleet will noticeably reduce operating costs at the country’s iron ore mines.
Rio Tinto, which is responsible for up to 40% of Australia’s iron ore production, has gradually expanded its AHS truck fleet from five in 2008 to 95 at the end of 2017. The company plans to increase the number further to around 150 trucks by 2020.
So far, Rio Tinto has invested over US$2bn towards installation of AHS trucks and robotics, with the majority of these at the company’s Pilbara iron ore operations. Through these investments and upgrades, the company reported a 37% increase in the per person productivity between 2014 and 2017.
Ankita Awasthi, Senior Mining Analyst at GlobalData, says: “AHS can have a significant impact in reducing the mining cost, which accounts for an average of 34% of the total operating cost. The key benefits of AHS trucks include improved haul truck utilization, alongside higher productivity.”
AHS trucks are only one part in Rio Tinto’s ‘Mine of the Future’ program. Other technological advancements include Automated Drilling System (ADS), AutoHaul, Mine Automation System (MAS), and 3D Software Technology. The company implemented the world’s first AutoHaul rail network in the first quarter 2017, automating more than 60% of its rail network.
Other Australian iron ore miners, such as BHP and FMG, which together control up to 45% of the country’s iron ore supply, have deployed AHS trucks at their respective mining sites. For example, in 2013, FMG initially deployed 54 AHS trucks and currently has 56 AHS trucks in operation, with its fleet expected to expand to 68 AHS trucks by 2020, while BHP is expected to add up to 50 by the same year.
Awasthi concludes: “While the numbers are still relatively small, the gradual increase in the AHS fleets is expected to have a noticeable impact on average operating costs for the major iron ore miners. In conjunction with other measures, GlobalData expects operating cost reductions on a per ton basis in the range of US$0.50 to US$0.62 by 2020 for the major iron ore miners, reducing the already low average from US$13.63/t in 2017 to US$13.07 in 2020.”