Miners Are Relying More on Robots. Now They Need Workers to Operate Them.
In this remote corner of western Australia, surrounded by clusters of low-lying scrub and red rocky outcrop, the world’s second-biggest mining company has built its most technologically advanced mine. For Rio Tinto, PLC finding the workers to run the new high-tech operation is a challenge.
Automation helped miners to become more efficient and avoid disruptions triggered by the pandemic, when sudden border closures marooned workers who used to jet in from afar for their shifts. But the companies’ investments are doing little to solve a broader labor crisis affecting an industry that still needs a large staff to keep their operations running smoothly.
How did one of the world's largest robots end up here?
The autonomous train, consisting of three locomotives and carrying around 28,000 tonnes of iron ore, travelled over 280 kilometres from our mining operations in Tom Price to the port of Cape Lambert. It was monitored remotely by operators from our Operations Centre in Perth more than 1,500 kilometres away. Our AutoHaul™ team at the Operations Centre in Perth continued to hone the technology, running thousands of hours of tests. The AutoHaul™ project was made fully operational in June 2019, making it the world’s first fully autonomous, long distance, heavy-haul rail network.
“The time-saving benefit is enormous because the train network is a core part of the mining operation. If we can prevent those stoppages, we can keep the network ticking over, allowing more ore to be transported to the ports and shipped off more efficiently,” says Lido. “The other major benefit is safety,” he continues. “We are removing the need to transport drivers 1.5 million kilometres each year to and from trains as they change their shift. This high-risk activity is something that driverless trains will largely reduce.”