Codelco moves forward with automation plans

August 28, 2020

Facing declining ore grades and disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, Codelco, the largest copper producer in the world, will forge ahead with plans for more automation in its mines.

The state owned mining company is facing opposition from labor unions but Codelco CEO Octavio Araneda maintains the digitalization of operations is critical to ensuring the long term viability of mining in Chile.

Reuters reported that copper miners are struggling globally with the ongoing disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, while in Chile they are also facing a combination of declining ore grades and costly overhauls of ageing mines.

“We are committed to a program of introducing autonomous trucks in the pits. That’s a potent and challenging goal in terms of automation,” Araneda said.

“That’s the big step still remaining to take, our are plants are already pretty automated.”

Codelco, which delivers all its profits to the state, increased production by 4.7 percent in the first half of the year even as it reduced staffing and adjusted shift systems to slow the spread of the virus in its operations.

But as Chile reached its peak of infections in July and the virus spread to its northern desert cities, Codelco’s unions reported around 3,000 cases and a handful of deaths, it was forced to stall development projects and smelters.

Araneda celebrated Codelco’s managing to reduce levels of the coronavirus among workers to an average of seven daily cases per day in a mass of 70,000 people, more than half of whom are asymptomatic.

Araneda said the company was prepared for a second wave.

“It is very likely that increases in the number of infections will happen in the country and the regions where we operate,” he said.

Chile this week surpassed 400,000 infections and more than 11,000 deaths from COVID-19 though with a drop in daily infection and positivity rates, it has begun a cautious lifting of lockdowns and resumption of business activity in the capital and around the country.

 

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