Research from GlobalData reveals that mines in Australia are set to see major additions to their already significant fleets of autonomous mining trucks.
BHP alone is expected to add 375 trucks across its Western Australia iron ore & Queensland coal operations between 2021 and 2023. Rio Tinto is also planning to add 100 autonomous trucks across all of Rio Tinto’s Pilbara operations between 2021 and 2022.
Australia already utilises the largest number of autonomous mining trucks in the world, with 575 trucks across its mines at the latest count. This is 418 more than the 143 autonomous trucks across Canada’s mines, the next largest number of autonomous trucks.
Australia also has six mines using entirely autonomous trucks. This includes the Christmas Creek iron ore mine, operated by the Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), which has 74 autonomous trucks alone.
This makes Christmas Creek the mine with the single largest number of autonomous trucks in the world.
Earlier this year, the first autonomous Caterpillar trucks started running at Newmont’s Boddington gold mine in Western Australia. The Boddington mine is on its way to become the world’s first autonomous gold mine.
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The improved efficiency of Cat’s autonomous haul trucks means that Newmont expects the project to extend the mine’s life by at least two years. The project is also expected to generate an internal rate of return greater than 35%.
Using autonomous trucks is becoming more popular
Mining companies have seen significant increases in the use of autonomous trucks between the middle of 2019 and early 2021.
FMG saw a 69% increase, from 114 to 193 trucks during this period. Suncore also saw a significant increase, of 322%, from 18 to 76 autonomous trucks.
The benefits of autonomous mining trucks
Miners have cited various benefits of utilising autonomous trucks for mining operations. Rio Tinto reported that trucks operated 1,000 more hours than manned trucks.
Multiple mining companies reported increases in productivity with autonomous truck use, with FMG citing more than a 30% increase in productivity.
There have also been reports of decreases in operating costs. BHP claimed that autonomous trucks decreased operating costs by about 20% and increased productivity by another 20%.
GlobalData research suggests that the number of autonomous trucks operating across the globe is expected to increase from around 760 in 2021 to at least 1,800 by the end of 2025.