Drivers set to be dumped

Big com­pa­nies see au­to­mated trucks as way of the fu­ture

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Working Wheels - JAMES STAN­FORD james.stan­ford@cars­

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

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