Rio Tinto is expanding its ‘Mine of the Future’ programme to develop new equipment and systems for deep underground mines.

Aker Wirth and Atlas Copco will help Rio develop two new tunnelling concepts, while Herrenknecht will develop a new shaft boring machine as part of the programme.

The new tunnelling concepts will enable fast and cost-effective tunnel creation, while the shaft boring machinery will bring rock excavation, rock transport and structural support – currently three separate processes – into a single system, Rio Tinto said.

The ‘Mine of the Future’ programme is designed to create next-generation technologies for mining operations that result in greater efficiency, lower production costs, improved health, safety and environmental performance and more attractive working conditions.

The programme, unveiled in January 2008, was initially focused on Pilbara iron ore operations but now includes Resolution Copper in Arizona and Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia.

These projects will use an underground block cave mining method, which requires the construction of significant underground infrastructure prior to ore production.

Rio Tinto said the new partnerships will help the company to develop rapid construction of mines.