James Palmer (pictured), BHP Mitsubishi Alliance Asset President, said this week that autonomous haulage systems (AHS) could become a much bigger part of the company’s operations in the future.
Speaking to attendees at a Bowen Basin Mining Club lunch in Mackay, Australia, Palmer said there was potential for 500 autonomous trucks to be introduced at BMA’s open-pit coal operations and BHP’s iron ore mines in the future.
This number of autonomous trucks first came up in a strategy briefing presentation delivered by Chief Financial Officer, Peter Beaven, in May.
Under a list of “projects in feasibility” in the appendices of Beaven’s presentation, the mining major detailed a staged haul truck automation plan that could cost less than $800 million to deliver, with the first of several investment decisions expected this year. In terms of the delivery of the project, BHP said it was estimating a staged rollout between 2020 and 2023, with AHS decisions made on a “site by site” basis.
This move follows a successful rollout of the technology at BHP’s Jimblebar iron ore operation in Western Australia, where the company, since implementation of the fully-autonomous solution, has seen significant incidents involving trucks decrease by almost 90%, according to Palmer.
It is this experience that has led to BMA and BHP Iron Ore studying widespread autonomous haulage at its operations.
“Through the study, which spans both BMA and BHP’s Iron Ore business, there’s potential to for up to 500 autonomous trucks to be introduced in our open-cut operations,” he said.
“It’s an ambitious target – that would see about a tenfold increase to BHP’s existing fleet of autonomous trucks already operating at Jimblebar today. But, like I said earlier, the results from Jimblebar – particularly the safety improvements – continue to make a strong case for change.”
In addition to talking up potential AHS operations, Palmer also spoke about the BHP Integrated Remote Operations Centre (IROC), a centre set up just over two years ago that has “created an extensive suite of training and upskilling opportunities for our people”, he said.
“Over 50% of the IROC’s mine control team have formerly operated heavy vehicles,” Palmer said. “Now, they’re helping drive our entire coal supply chain – from pit to port.”