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Australia pushing high-tech mining

The Mines and Petroleum Minister recently opened a state-of-the-art expansion of Fortescue Metal Group’s (FMG) Integrated Operations Centre.

Officially named the Fortescue Hive, the East Perth-based centre uses the latest technology to improve the safety, reliability and efficiency of the company’s operations across the State.

Activities at the hive include operating FMG’s autonomous haulage and drilling technology, and the real-time monitoring of its iron ore processing facilities, mine sites and port.

Western Australia’s iron ore sector, which accounted for more than a third of global iron ore production in 2019, is a world-leader in deploying autonomous mining equipment.

Since the introduction of autonomous haul system technology, FMG’s 168 autonomous trucks have travelled more than 47 million kilometres and moved more than 1.4 billion tonnes of material.

The Mines and Petroleum Minister stated, “WA’s iron ore sector continues to drive the digital mines of the future, reinforcing our reputation as a global leader in smart mining. This technology is not only transforming the iron ore industry but is being trialled by other commodity groups such as the gold sector.”

He also noted that innovative centres such as the Fortescue Hive are a great win for worker safety, with several companies reporting improved safety outcomes across the State.

“The McGowan Government will continue to support programs and opportunities that upskill our workforce to ensure we meet the technological requirements of the future,” he added.

Autonomous hauling fleet rolls out in Queensland

Major BHP and its coal alliance partner Mitsubishi (BMA) have announced an AU$100-million investment into 34 new autonomous trucks at the Daunia mine, in Central Queensland.

The BMA Asset President noted that at least ten regional and indigenous businesses will be employed to support the roll-out, with contracts worth AU$35-million. This will result in 150 additional project roles for BMA people and contractors. This is on top of 56 new permanent roles on site.

The firm has promised that there will be “no job losses as a result of this decision and anyone who currently works with us, be it an employee or labour-hire worker, will be allowed to continue to do so.”.

The autonomous trucks will increase safety and performance and help the mine remain competitive over the long-term.

To help prepare for Daunia’s autonomous future, it is estimated over 30,000 hours of training will be delivered, ranging from general awareness to extensive training for those operating the equipment, interacting with the autonomous haul trucks, or taking on new roles.

The first Caterpillar autonomous trucks will begin from February 2021, with the roll-out expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

The Minerals Council of Australia has welcomed the announcement of more jobs and upskilling at the mine, saying the industry body has long promoted the benefits of technology and innovation for Australian mining, and its highly skilled, highly paid workforce.

The CEO stated that innovation, people and skills combined with technological advances will deliver a more globally competitive minerals sector that delivers fulfilling careers in highly paid, high-skilled jobs.

The Queensland Resources Council has also welcomed the investment, with its CEO saying the Queensland coal industry was an early adopter of technology and a world leader in creating the long-term jobs of the future through automation.

“Technology is a multiplier of jobs and through this investment up to ten regional businesses, including Indigenous businesses, will share in AU$35-million worth of contracts, creating 150 project jobs on top of the 56 new permanent jobs on-site,” he noted.

It appears that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are changing the way all industries are run. The shift to autonomous operations has been accelerated at a result.

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