CAT in major autonomous truck milestone with Fortescue deal…while Rio doubles its Komatsu driverless fleet

Caterpillar has made a key announcement on the progress of its autonomous truck program. Together with Australian dealer, WesTrac, CAT has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Fortescue Metals Group to implement an autonomous mining solution for Fortescue’s new Solomon iron ore mine. This solution will comprise a number of elements, including the full CAT® MineStarTM System technology suite and an initial fleet of 12 Command for hauling autonomous 793F trucks to be implemented in third and fourth quarter 2012. At full operational capacity, it is anticipated the Solomon mine will have approximately 45 autonomous trucks by 2015.

“This agreement confirms and validates Caterpillar’s commitment to our customers by producing state-of- the-art solutions that provide a significant step change in mining productivity and safety,” said Chris Curfman, Vice President, Caterpillar Global Mining. “By working closely with mining customers, we are able to tailor a solution to their specific business needs using Caterpillar’s broad range of products, technology and services. This collaboration will also positively impact sustainability at Fortescue’s Solomon mine through reduced environmental footprint and machine efficiencies.”

“Innovation is at the heart of Fortescue’s values,” said Fortescue’s Chief Operating Officer, Neville Power. “It is how we started this business through different exploration and mining practices, and it will be critical in how we implement our extensive growth aspirations. One of the key growth challenges we face is around availability of people and the need to best utilise this valuable resource. As such, it is incumbent upon us to look at new ways of doing things. Partnering with the world’s leading mining equipment supplier and their most accomplished dealer to develop the automation of our mining operations is a great outcome. The expected roll out is more than just a trial with the plan to get to 12 machines by 2012 and then growing to 45 by 2015. It is the unique capabilities that the three parties bring to this agreement that will deliver the world’s leading autonomous mining solution at Solomon.”

Caterpillar and WesTrac will work together to implement and operate this autonomous solution for Fortescue. The two organisations together will provide product and technology implementation, consulting and change management services to Solomon mine, as well as operate the complete autonomous system once it is implemented. In addition, WesTrac will be fully responsible for supporting the large Caterpillar mining fleet at Solomon with machine and technology technicians and support personnel. “For the past 10 years, WesTrac has been a leader in selling, implementing and supporting mining technology products that help mining companies achieve improved productivity and asset utilisation. By marrying our deep CAT product expertise with these ‘building block’ technologies, we are well positioned with Caterpillar to provide Solomon mine with a turn-key autonomous mining solution,” said WesTrac Group CEO, Jim Walker.

The Caterpillar statement concluded: “The world’s first autonomous truck was demonstrated by Caterpillar in the mid 1990’s. At MINExpo 2008, Caterpillar articulated its vision for autonomous mining in the future that includes autonomous drilling, autonomous dozers and autonomous underground mining equipment working with other manned equipment. The implementation of Command for hauling trucks at the Solomon mine is a significant step in executing Cat’s strategy to transform how mine sites will operate in the future.”

Komatsu has made significant progress with its long standing autonomous truck project at Rio Tinto’s Pilbara operations. On 8th June, Rio Tinto announced that it is to double its driverless truck fleet as part of the next phase in its Mine of the FutureTM project.and deploy them at Yandicoogina, the largest mine in the Pilbara. The move follows a two-year trial of Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) technology on trucks at the West Angelas mine, which has performed “well above expectations.” The trucks will dump ore for the first time, marking a major step in the evolution of the project towards full operational deployment. Previously the trucks only dumped waste product. Rio Tinto Iron Ore Pilbara Operations president Greg Lilleyman said: “This is an exciting step in achieving our Mine of the Future vision, and a critical one in our drive for outstanding safety and production efficiency as we grow our business towards 333 Mt / y capacity. It will be the first operational deployment of this technology in Australia, or anywhere on this scale. The trucks will be used for all haulage requirements in the Junction South East (JSE) pit, moving high grade, low grade and waste material from multiple loading units.”

The AHS project has been underway at West Angelas since December 2008, operating around the clock for more than two years, moving more than 42 Mt of material in approximately 145,000 cycles, travelling more than 450,000 km. In that time, performing a number of tasks, Rio Tinto states that the AHS technology has demonstrated clear value to the business, especially in the areas of health, safety and productivity. The AHS trucks use pre-defined courses and navigate autonomously from loading units to dump locations, including waste dumps, stockpiles and crushers. The main navigation system is GPS, combined with a secondary navigation process. The existing five Komatsu 930E trucks fitted with Komatsu’s ‘Frontrunner’ AHS system, will be moved from West Angelas to the Yandicoogina mine, where they will combine with five new 930E trucks, and operate the JSE pit. The 10 autonomous trucks will operate at Yandicoogina JSE under the control of Yandicoogina mine management, supported by the AHS support team. It is expected to be fully deployed by April 2012.