Drivers set to be dumped
Big companies see automated trucks as way of the future
KIDS who want to drive big yellow dump trucks when they grow up might need to have a rethink.
By the time they become adults there could be hardly any jobs driving the big mining trucks that fascinate so many children and spark countless Tonka truck toy sales.
Mining giant BHP Billiton has announced it is going to follow rival Rio Tinto and introduce Komatsu automated dump trucks.
It will run a trial program at its Jimblebar mine in Western Australia’s Pilbara region late next year using 12 to 15 Caterpillar trucks that will be operated from an office in Perth.
If it is successful, as Rio Tinto’s trials that began in 2008 were, BHP will roll out many more automated rigs at its mines.
These trucks, which run around the clock, still need a little human help, but only when they are loading or unloading. This is when the desk jockey in Perth takes over.
Automation experts say that it is only a matter of time before the trucks will do all the work without humans.
Mining companies stand to save huge amounts of money from automated trucks.
BHP iron ore and coal chief Marcus Randolph says it takes 10 or 11 workers to run a traditional mining dump truck (including driving, maintenance and maintaining the camp at remote sites).
But BHP isn’t content with automated trucks and wants to go one step further and get rid of all the dump trucks so it can reduce the number of people on its payroll.
‘‘ If you go autonomous you get rid of half of those (10 or 11 people),’’ Randolph says. ‘‘ If you go truckless you get rid of all of them.’’
BHP’s idea is to adopt portable processing plants, which can be moved to the pit where the minerals are being extracted, dramatically reducing the need for the big yellow haulers.
Only a matter of time: Trucks eventually will work under guidance from a computer operator