Automation is often seen as a key enabler for the mining industry. Many analysts think in a post-COVID-19 world, it will be assume a central role in planning for the future of mining.

It makes operations safer for its people, more efficient and brings more value to stakeholders.

Here’s are some examples of the world’s leading mining companies making mining better – with automation:

At Rio Tinto, Automation has been part of the business. Automation can be seen widely applied to trucks, drills and trains.

The Rio Tinto website says: “Our Iron Ore business operates the world’s first fully autonomous, heavy-haul long-distance railway system – AutoHaul™ – which has so far travelled more than 7 million kilometres.”

Resolute mining has been making huge strides in the automation space. Resolute says, “Once fully commissioned, the Syama Underground Mine will be the most sophisticated and advanced gold mine in Africa. Our investment in exploration, infrastructure, technology, power, and innovation at Syama has transformed a world class orebody into a world class mine.” Observers think this mine will be a showpiece to the rest of the world in highly advanced automation.

Pic: Barrick

Barrick isn’t far behind. Chief executive Mark Bristow says that his company will have to be at the leading edge of automation. “Kibali in the Democratic Republic of Congo is currently at the forefront, with its mission control system which manages the underground ore handling logistics without human intervention from the surface, but across Barrick there are many automated operations and developments which are now being unified in a group strategy,” he says.

Mark the robot at Kennecott
Deep inside our Bingham Canyon copper mine in Utah, western United States, Rio Tinto use a remote operated vehicle team – including drones and other equipment – to help keep people safe and save the business money. The newest team member is a robot named Mark II, designed and built by our chief drone pilot, Matt Key, using an over-the-counter rock crawler and a 3D printer. Matt’s ingenuity meant Mark II cost a mere $10,000 to build, a fraction of the $100,000 it could have cost to buy a similar robot. Mark II squeezes into small spaces and manoeuvres over tough terrain to test oxygen levels and collect soil and water samples.

BHP another one of the world’s biggest mining companies. BHP Chief Technology Officer, Diane Jurgens said last year, “For example, in Western Australia we are using autonomous blast hole drills, increasing productivity by 25 per cent, reducing maintenance costs by over 40 per cent, but most importantly keeping our people out of harm’s way,” she said.

“Haulage Automation at our Jimblebar operation in the Pilbara has reduced heavy vehicle safety incidents by 80 per cent and BHP is considering opportunities to accelerate truck autonomy across our Australian sites.”

There is little doubt that automation makes mining better. But could there also be any downsides? Please let us know in your comments.


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