Mining is a traditionally analogue business. After all, the industry's symbol worldwide is a hammer and pick. Yet, despite the sector's antiquated reputation, some major mining companies are taking a progressive stance and proving digitisation and automation can achieve much better operational outcomes. Known as Mine 4.0, the industry is seeing digital transformation creep into everything from trucks, drills and trains to back-office processes, such as procurement and supply chain logistics. Miners have very little control over the revenue side of their business, as the global commodities crash of 2014 to 2015, when prices plunged by more than 30 per cent, and indeed the coronavirus epidemic demonstrate.
The world's largest robot has been unveiled and it is a completely autonomous railway system. AutoHaul has been developed by a mining firm and is being used to transport iron ore from mines to shipping ports 500 miles away (800 km) in Western Australia. This journey can be completed in just 40 hours, including the loading and dumping of the ferrous cargo. Its deployment is the end result of a project which has so far cost $940 million (£740 million). Rio Tinto, the corporation that built the infrastructure and hardware for the locomotive, says this could be the first step in transforming the firm's 1,000-mile (1,700-kilometre) network connecting 16 iron ore mines and two ports.
Rio Tinto has completed the rollout of its automated rail network in the Pilbara, Western Australia, which is the first heavy-haul, long distance autonomous rail operation in the world. The $940 million rail project, titled AutoHaul, focuses on automating trains to transport iron between Rio Tinto's various port facilities in Pilbara, Western Australia. The mining giant gained approval from the National Safety Regulator in May to test its autonomous fleet of trains in Western Australia and conducted its first automated mine-to-port delivery of iron ore in July. Since completing its first delivery of iron ore via the AutoHaul project in July last year, the mining giant has steadily increased the number of autonomous journey across its iron ore operations in Western Australia. According to Rio Tinto, over 1 million kilometres have been travelled autonomously throughout the duration of the AutoHaul project.
Each of these trucks is the size of a small two-story house. None has a driver or anyone else on board. Mining company Rio Tinto has 73 of these titans hauling iron ore 24 hours a day at four mines in Australia's Mars-red northwest corner. At this one, known as West Angelas, the vehicles work alongside robotic rock drilling rigs. The company is also upgrading the locomotives that haul ore hundreds of miles to port--the upgrades will allow the trains to drive themselves, and be loaded and unloaded automatically.
Mining is no stranger to digitalisation. The widely held perception of the resources industry is one of workers in mines and not one of machines running almost everything. But technological advances have already resulted in adoption of mechanisation, automation and data-driven production optimisation. Companies such as BHP, Anglo American and Rio Tinto have embraced digitalisation to gain a competitive advantage, mitigate risk and improve performance. They use advanced data analytics, virtual reality and artificial intelligence to reduce costs and increase efficiency in their processes, leading to enhanced ore recovery and less waste, to name a couple of benefits.