The Rise of Autonomous Trucks in the Mining Industry

Autonomous trucks have arrived in the mining industry. That’s great news for mining companies that must contend with multiple challenges. Faced with difficult-to-access resources in dwindling supplies, depressed commodity prices, and increased public scrutiny over worker safety, digital mining solutions can help them reduce overhead costs and maintain site integrity.

Autonomous trucks have arrived in the mining industry.

Right now, mining sites all over the globe are harnessing the power of digital mining solutions and seeing great returns on their investment. They’re using autonomous haulage systems to operate their autonomous fleet vehicles 24/7 and deliver business results for their stakeholders. These systems simplify autonomous fleet management and help mining sites operate more efficiently than ever before.

From mining to loading to hauling, the industry can leverage these end-to-end solutions for fully autonomous mining operations.

If you’re tasked with fleet management, autonomous vehicles and equipment can help your mining sites operate efficiently. Read on to learn more about how you can benefit from autonomous mining.

How Autonomous Mining Trucks & Other Equipment Benefit Mine Sites

The mining industry faces increasing pressure from consumers who want responsibly sourced products. That means that leaders in this industry have to be mindful of the social and environmental impact of their mines in addition to their financial performance. Consumers demand that companies keep their workforce safe and limit their impact on the environment in the communities where they operate.

Companies that ignore this changing landscape risk alienating potential customers and investors. To ensure that they measure up, the industry is looking to autonomous solutions to meet these changing imperatives and the expectations of their stakeholders.

Vehicle and equipment manufacturers have risen to meet these demands with drills, dozers, underground loaders, and other vehicles. Some manufacturers are farther along than others with this cutting-edge technology, but each year brings more autonomous haulage systems with additional functionalities. These innovative transport solutions help reduce emissions, improve safety, and increase productivity. These solutions provide savings and enhance the reputations of companies that deploy this autonomous equipment. Leading manufacturers in this space include:

  • Caterpillar
  • Volvo
  • Komatsu
  • Scania
  • Sandvik
  • Hitachi

The autonomous solutions these companies offer have been a boon for mining sites. They offer many key features and benefits over manned mining equipment, such as:

  • Improved safety features
  • Fewer safety incidents
  • Reduced operating costs
  • Increased operating efficiency

The technologies behind these machines enhance overall productivity and safety. With fewer people required on-site, this unmanned equipment reduces the risk of injuries. Manned machines must stop for shift changes and breaks, but autonomous vehicles boost productivity because they only need to stop for fueling or maintenance, running as long as you need them. There’s no risk of drivers getting bored or tired while performing repetitive tasks, so human error is nonexistent with these unmanned vehicles.

Autonomous mining technology allows workers to operate equipment from afar instead of in hazardous environments. It’s possible for autonomous vehicles and equipment to avoid colliding with objects or people in their path.

The vehicles also allow for improved vehicle utilization and availability by ensuring that vehicles are used evenly and that you have a proactive maintenance plan. You can design your mine for autonomous vehicles, which can follow a precise, accurate path every time. That means you can make inclines steeper and roads narrower.

History of Autonomous Trucks at Mine Sites

This cutting-edge autonomous technology has been used at mines for over 30 years. In 1990, Komatsu deployed Field Management Software for managing operations at mines in Japan which laid the groundwork for commercial use. It took some time to develop this technology for a commercial launch. Komatsu finally achieved it over 15 years later. In Chile in 2007 and in Australia in 2008, their autonomous mining technology saw commercial deployment.

One of the most significant early uses of autonomous mining vehicles was by the Rio Tinto Group at Australia’s Mine of the Future in 2008. The Pilbara region of Australia is rich in minerals but in a remote location. Workers operate an autonomous mining fleet in this region from a control center in Perth. Just six years into the operation, autonomous trucks had hauled 200 million metric tons. Two years later, in 2016, the Rio Tinto Group was the first in the world to transport all of its iron ore via driverless trucks and vehicles.

In another important milestone for this technology’s history, Syama Gold Mine in Bali became the world’s first fully autonomous underground mine in 2019. In an industry-first, the mine deployed automated drilling, loading, and haulage from Sandvik, a Swedish engineering company, to achieve fully autonomous operations.

Australia continues to lead the way with this state-of-the-art technology and has significantly more driverless vehicles in operation at mine sites. Canada follows but trails behind significantly. Komatsu and Caterpillar are veterans in the industry who have each hauled more than 3 billion tonnes of material.

Now that there are successful autonomous mines at locations around the globe, more companies are curious about how they can implement this technology at their own sites.

Benefits of Autonomous Haulage Systems

An automatic haulage system is a fleet management system designed for mines. It relies on a wireless connection to create an interconnected system that equips mining machines with GPS, vehicle controllers, and obstacle detection systems. It enhances the benefits of a fleet of autonomous vehicles. Its capabilities enable route mapping and safety features that can deliver many benefits to mining companies.

Spike Your Productivity

These systems can improve your operational efficiency in measurable ways. There’s no need for shift changes or lunch breaks, and the machines always operate within the parameters you set within the automatic haulage system. It eliminates the production slowdowns that can happen with human workers, enabling more reliable and efficient production planning. You can expect increased truck availability, maximized resources, decreased total cost of ownership for vehicles, and boosted uptime.

Perform Quality Maintenance

Autonomous haulage systems make proactive maintenance easy. You can set the driving parameters so that the mobile equipment in your fleet always performs at the optimal level. This can limit the wear and tear on vehicles and reduce the necessary maintenance. This system will alert you whenever anything goes wrong and provide diagnostic information to your service department right away. It can also alert you when it’s time to perform regularly scheduled maintenance or other proactive maintenance tasks.

Vehicle maintenance is easier and more reliable with this system than relying on human drivers to notice and alert you to vehicle problems. That means that your equipment will spend less time idle in the shop and will be available for work more often.

Control Over Operations

Another advantage of these systems is improved visibility and transparency. Since these systems allow you to set driving parameters, you can also ensure compliance and get consistent, predictable performance day after day. It makes it easier than ever before to meet your production capabilities.

Data-Driven Insights

With data about all your mining operations visible in one place, it’s not difficult to get actionable insights. You can use this information to continuously tweak your approach to your mining operations and develop plans based on real-world data.

Get the Best Performance

These systems can ensure that you are leveraging your resources — personnel, equipment, and technology — to get the best return on your investment. They allow you to integrate and make the most of your existing resources at every phase of your mining operations. Autonomous haulage systems support you from feasibility analysis to program implementation.

Workforce Management

An automatic haulage system makes it possible to have workers operate vehicles from far away. That’s great news for mining companies that operate in remote locations where it can be a challenge to attract and retain skilled workers. Some systems may provide tools for online learning that will help you upskill your workforce.

MiX Telematics Solutions for the Mining Industry

At MiX Telematics, we are watching these shifts in the mining industry and working to provide products that complement the needs of this crucial part of our economy. We offer a range of fleet management solutions for the mining industry that can help support both autonomous and manned vehicles and equipment. Most mining operations aren’t comfortable with going fully autonomous overnight. Our tools can help you manage and integrate a fleet of both manual and autonomous mining equipment, and we support you with our extensive telematics expertise for mining operations. MiX Telematics solutions help mining companies get the most out of their fleets.

  • Safer Mines: We’re proud to help make mines safer. On average, our clients see a 30% reduction in collisions. We give you the tools to monitor unsafe driving behaviors. When dangerous driving events occur, drivers and managers alike get an alert. Some products feature driver coaching tools and can even detect distracted driving or driver fatigue.
  • Reduced Operating Costs: Costs from maintenance, insurance, repairs, and fuel cut into already tight profit margins. Fleet telematics tools lower these costs by ensuring that drivers are accountable for their performance. Our app makes it fun for truck drivers to improve their driving habits and keeps them engaged.
  • Lower Emissions: Often, mining companies must comply with regulations for emissions targets, or they incorporate sustainability into their brand. Whatever your reason for your sustainability targets, MiX has tools to help. We’ve helped our clients save as much as 540,000 tons of CO2 annually.

With so many telematics products to choose from, MiX Telematics can help you achieve your targets and gain an advantage over your competitors.

A fully-implemented and supported MiX Telematics solution is guaranteed to improve driver safety and reduce accident rates while also lowering risk, liability and cost.

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