ASX-listed Mineral Resources and its technology partner Hexagon AB plan to have a fully autonomous commercial road-train transport offering out in the market in 2023.
The Western Australia-focused miner and mining services company, which has a current market value around A$8.9 billion, aims to introduce new transport and iron ore crushing efficiencies to “unlock” its Ashburton deposits in north-west WA. A private haul road between the proposed mines and coastal shipping facilities at Onslow is expected to provide a conduit for the world’s largest autonomous heavy road train, which Mineral Resources expects to have ticked all commercial and regulatory boxes by that time.
“By the time we get to 2023 we will have a fleet we can market to the broader community as a mining service,” mining services division CEO Mike Grey said this week at a Hexagon launch event in Perth, WA.
The company derived $1750 million of its $3.7 billion total fiscal 2021 revenue from mining services and plans a new phase of growth via transhipping, port operations and large-scale haulage. It wants to “build capability in innovative mining services and infrastructure”.
Grey said a lean, mean and innovative approach to business would remain Mineral Resources’ hallmark.
“We’re about to be [technology-focused] I think over the next few years,” he said. “We’ve kept it bloody simple to be honest … We’ve had some good people. Good people [now] are hard to come by and unfortunately, or fortunately, we need to engage with the technology piece, which is exactly what we’re doing.
“We’re not afraid of a challenge. We love taking a punt and I think this is a really safe punt for us. We’ve got trusted partners. We’ve certainly got aggressive timelines. Historically we’ve been good at managing through challenging timelines.
“Our internal client is more challenging than our external clients, I can assure you of that.”
Pascal Felix, Mineral Resources business transformation and innovation director, said at the event WA at this stage presented a unique opportunity to apply and potentially sell the company’s “cloud fleet as-a-service” autonomous road-haulage concept due to the need to find economic solutions to exploit stranded mineral deposits, the conducive regulatory environment, and now the availability of certain technologies, including various real-time vehicle locators and communicators that obviated the need for continuous satellite coverage.
Early driver-assisted operation of semi-autonomous vehicles was pointing to the potential for meaningful emission reductions from autonomous trucks. The “live environment” testwork and “teaching” of the robotic trucks on Mineral Resources-built roads in the Yilgarn is expected to progress to remote operating centre (ROC) control of a platoon of semi-autonomous vehicles and then “the main game” – the Ashburton project deployment of autonomous vehicles.
“The automated road-train solution improves the safety of long-range haulage, provides cost-efficiencies and reduces emissions to assist companies in lowering their carbon footprint,” Mineral Resources has said. “Beyond mining, this innovative solution will also benefit bulk haulage in many other off-road primary industries.”
Hexagon has embarked on a strategic reset of its circa-US$200 million-a-year mining software and technology business after recently announcing an alliance with Germany’s Liebherr, one of the few remaining, large global mining equipment makers without a digital and autonomy dance partner, and a lesser partnership with Volvo Construction Equipment.
It bought a bunch of mining tech companies in the middle of last decade, to add to its Leica Geosystems-Jigsaw Technologies base, to launch Hexagon mining, but lost momentum during the last market downturn.
Mining equipment leader Komatsu of Japan, Caterpillar, Hitachi Construction Machinery, Epiroc and Sandvik have all progressively bought and developed deeper Mining 4.0 capability. Schneider Electric, ABB, Perenti Global and others are coming at the burgeoning market from different angles.