BHP is looking to start the roll out of autonomous trucks at its Eastern Ridge mine site in the Pilbara of Western Australia in the next month, with the fleet of 20 Cat 793 haul trucks set to be fully converted to autonomous mode by the end of the year.
The company announced earlier this year that Eastern Ridge (also referred to as Newman East) would be the next mine to benefit from autonomous haulage. This came after a previous automation announcement related to the jointly-owned Goonyella Riverside mine, in Queensland. BHP has also agreed to acquire 41 new model Komatsu 930E-5, which are autonomous ready, for its in-development South Flank iron ore mine, but the company has not yet confirmed if it will use the autonomous capability at the site.
A BHP spokesperson confirmed the existing fleet of Cat 793s were set for automation retrofits, explaining that the roll out would occur from the end of June/early July.
Despite the restrictions in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, the spokesperson said the company was on track for full roll out completion by the end of year, as planned.
In the announcement back in February, BHP said the automation project at Eastern Ridge, which the company is currently using as its proving ground for innovation, was down to the significant safety benefits offered by the technology and its ability to complement the mine’s design, culture and existing infrastructure.
“Newman East is home to our innovation centre, so we’re already using technology there that helps us to be safer and more efficient,” Newman Operations General Manager, Marie Bourgoin, said. “Autonomous trucks were the next logical step.”
This shift will create more than 30 new permanent jobs at Newman East to run and maintain the trucks, according to Bourgoin, with the new roles tied to planning the truck routes and operating the autonomous systems from a control centre, which will initially be located at the mine.
It will also generate more than A$33 million ($23 million) in contracts for Western Australia businesses, with the work required to transition Newman to autonomous haulage including autonomous conversion kits, trailers, training content development and engineering and construction packages.
Newman East is one half of BHP’s Newman operations, which also includes Newman West, locally known as Mt Whaleback. No decision has been made to introduce autonomous trucks at Newman West, the company confirmed.