Rio steps up automation effort

RIO Tinto is expanding its autonomous haul trucks to a fifth Pilbara site this month.
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Kristie Batten

The company will deploy 15 trucks fitted with Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology at West Angelas from May.

The autonomous fleet at the mine includes Rio’s first retrofitted Komatsu 930E trucks and represents about 25% of the total fleet in operation at West Angelas.

“This deployment is a special achievement for Rio Tinto as we pioneered the adoption of AHS in Australia at the West Angelas mine 10 years ago, paving the way for the significant autonomous fleet we have in operation today,” Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said.

“Rio Tinto has led the way in automation and has been on this journey for more than a decade.

“Technology will continue to change the way we work, new career pathways will be created and our adaptability and innovation in training and development will be key to our success.”

Rio has also started retrofitting its existing truck fleets at Marandoo and Brockman 4 with autonomous technology.

Despite headlines today of up to 200 job losses via the automation of the truck fleet, a Rio spokesman said the company was confident of minimal impact on the workforce.

“These projects are due to be completed by the end of 2019 and we are engaging with our workforce to support them through this transition by assessing opportunities for reskilling, upskilling and redeployment,” he said.

“Rio Tinto has been successfully managing the challenges and opportunities that automation technology presents for almost 10 years. We have a strong track record of reskilling, upskilling and redeploying our people.”

He added that automation and technology improved safety and created new roles which may require new skills and capabilities. 

“As a proud WA employer we are committed to our employees and are actively engaging with them to develop their career pathway opportunities,” the spokesman said. 

“Our commitment includes our recently announced partnership to build curriculum required for the mining jobs of the future with South Metropolitan TAFE and the WA government.”

Around 250 new roles at Rio were recently created via the development and commissioning of the new Silvergrass mine, while the Koodaideri project, currently in feasibility stage, will require up to 1600 construction jobs and 600 operational roles if approved.

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