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Perth control systems are now moving tonnes of earth in the Pilbara.

Mining giant Rio Tinto recently initiated the process of automating its mining systems, namely its fleet of earthmovers, to help boost production. The company operates 57 driverless earthmovers in its Hope Downs 4 iron mine in the region and is testing an automated train system called the AutoHaul, which is estimated to boost shipped iron ore tonnages by 353 million tonnes annually.

Even as mining operations continue to wind down in Western Australia, mining companies are still investing in new technology. The mining boom more than 20 years ago certainly did its job of putting Perth, home to dozens of mining companies, on the economic map. Even so, more minerals wait to be extracted beneath the Western Australian soil.

Shift in Manpower

Although automation would reduce the number of required human handlers, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, director of the Rio Tinto Centre for my Automation, said the goal of automation was never to cut manpower. In the case of Rio Tinto’s driverless trucks, the company would, in fact, require more workers specializing in electronics to maintain the systems.

His take on automation is echoed by other robotics industry experts who argue that technology has always helped create jobs by increasing productivity and fulfilling demand more easily. The human factor is still crucial for making decisions on the fly when operations encounter unexpected situations.

Pioneer in Safety

Global standards are looking to Australian mining companies, including Rio Tinto, for expertise on mining safety. By taking drivers out of the driver’s seat, they can be spared from the dangers common in mines. In fact, Rio Tinto’s operations center in Perth oversees production from all its mines in the area, automated systems included.

The International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) is currently developing BS ISO 17757, automated mining’s very own ISO, using concepts employed by Australian mining companies. No implementation date has been reported so far, but there can be no doubt as to its necessity as the mining industry treads the path of automation.

Having said that, Perth industrial automation companies like Auto Control Systems will be even busier in the years to come. Driverless trucks and trains are just the beginning, automation processes to increase productivity and make the workplace safer will continue to be researched and developed. Technology can only grow from this point on.

Citation:

“Rio Tinto gets driverless trucks rolling,” Australian Associated Press [c/o The Australian], April 1, 2015

“The Future of Mining – Robotics, and Automation,” Mining Man, August 8, 2010

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