Rio Tinto’s fleet of autonomous haul trucks achieved a significant milestone in January by moving their one-billionth tonne of material.

Since commencing trial operations in 2008, haul trucks fitted with Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology have now moved more than one billion tonnes of both ore and waste material across five sites in the Pilbara including the newly commissioned Silvergrass mine.

Last year, Rio Tinto’s autonomous fleet accounted for about a quarter of the total material moved across its Pilbara mines. On average, each autonomous truck was estimated to have operated about 700 hours more than conventional haul trucks during 2017 and around 15 per cent lower load and haul unit costs.

The company says there have been zero injuries attributed to autonomous haul trucks since deployment, highlighting their significant safety advantages.

With more than 80 autonomous Komatsu trucks currently operating and plans in place to increase this to more than 140 by the end of 2019, the pace of automation across Rio Tinto’s iron ore business is accelerating.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said, “Hauling one billion tonnes autonomously is an impressive milestone for our business and again highlights Rio Tinto’s pioneering spirit when it comes to adopting revolutionary new technologies which are making the industry safer and more efficient.”

The company is studying future additions to its autonomous truck fleet to contribute to its $5 billion productivity programme, according to Salisbury, specifically iron ore’s commitment to deliver $500 million of additional free cash flow from 2021.

“We remain committed to working closely with our employees as we expand our autonomous haul truck fleet including providing opportunities for new roles, redeployment, retraining and upskilling,” he said.

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