BHP South Flank going fully autonomous

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BHP's South Flank iron ore operation in Western Australia. Image: BHP
Major new iron ore mine automating more than 220 mobile vehicles

BHP has confirmed the whole production truck fleet and support equipment at its US$3.6 billion South Flank iron ore operation in Western Australia’s Pilbara region – “our most technologically-advanced mine”, according to the company’s Minerals Australia president, Edgar Basto – will be fully autonomous by September 2023.

BHP produced first ore from the planned 80 million tonnes per annum South Flank mine less than a year ago and says 41 Komatsu 930E-5 haul trucks and about 180 ancillary machines working across five “Autonomous Operation Zones” (AOZs) will be progressively converted to fully autonomous mode between June this year and September 2023. The other gear to be converted includes excavators, dozers, front-end loaders, water trucks and site vehicles.

Basto says autonomous haulage has delivered “significant safety, cost and productivity benefits at our operations”.

The company says “no job losses are anticipated”, with “up to 60 specialist roles being created to ensure the pits are able to run autonomously, and the machines are kept operational”.

“These roles include autonomous haulage system controllers, field officers and service technicians. Everyone working in the mining team is being invited to apply for these new roles,” BHP said.

The mine had been built to be “autonomous ready”, with remote monitoring and control of the operation from BHP’s remote operations centre in Perth, more than 1060km away.

South Flank forms part of BHP’s 150Mtpa Mining Area C production hub, which the company says is the “largest operating iron ore hub in the world”.


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