BHP Billiton announced plans to incorporate autonomous haul trucks in Australia’s New South Wales and Queensland’s regions, The Australian reported.
The autonomous trucks, which cut costs by reducing the need to house, feed and employ four drivers, would be put to use in a trial setting at BHP coalmines, BHP coal president Dean Dalla Valle said.
Rio Tinto led the way in introducing the driverless trucks into its iron ore mines in Australia’s Pilbara region.
BHP Billiton will introduce the technology to its coal mines in Australia following tests that were completed in New Mexico.
“We’re looking at two opportunities in coal to do the same thing, in Queensland and NSW,” Dalla Valle told The Australian. “There’s no doubt it will happen, and I’d like to think that within 12 months we will be running trials.”
BHP last month indicated its late-mover status in automated equipment was not a reluctance to employ the technology.It said it was extending a robot truck trial at its Jimblebar iron ore mine to the nearby Wheelara mine.
Rio Tinto had planned to have 40 autonomous trucks running in the Pilbara this year, about twice the number BHP will have after the Wheelara trial starts.
BHP’s coalmines are where it most needs to save money because of depressed thermal and coking coal prices.
Luckily, the coal unit has been leading the company-wide productivity drive, reducing costs and bringing on new projects under budget.
BHP is due to bring on the Caval Ridge coking coalmine in Queensland early and under budget this year, but has been publicly told by chief executive Andrew Mackenzie it will not get development funds until rates of return improve. This will require increased prices as well as continued productivity gains.