Rio Tinto mines advanced graphical modelling for future production as costs grow

Rio Tinto's chief executive has said its advanced graphical modelling techniques are vital to its growth as it faces a tough mining environment with inflating costs, and as it looks to longer term opportunities.

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Rio Tinto's chief executive has said its advanced graphical modelling techniques are vital to its growth as it faces a tough mining environment with inflating costs, and as it looks to longer term opportunities.

The Anglo-Australian mining group said that by using the modelling systems it could plan thousands of different strategies to visualise the potential of sites, before committing to large expenditure.

Tom Albanese, chief executive, told investors that the systems enable the firm “to evaluate literally thousands of alternative mine planning scenarios in order to optimise our growth plans”. This was “vital in our business”, he said, “where large sums of capital must be invested up front, and design decisions influence value creation over a number of decades”.

“In a period of rapid investment across the industry we are experiencing high cost inflation in certain mining hotspots”, alongside the effects of the increasing strength of the Australian and Canadian dollars, he said. “Nevertheless, through our industry-leading investment in technology and innovation and our track record of superior operational performance, we expect to mitigate some of these cost increases.”

Rio Tinto, which last week announced a 30 percent leap in profits to $7.6 billion (£4.6 billion) on the back of strong Asian demand, said it was determined to continue investment in cutting edge systems.

The company, which has announced a joint bid with Mitsubishi for coal firm Coal & Allied, said it had also doubled its flagship automated truck fleet to ten trucks.

“When I became chief executive in 2007 I took the strategic decision to target investment in innovative  step change technologies,” said Albanese. “We focused our attention on a small number of areas where we believed we could generate significant value and differentiate ourselves from the rest of the industry.”

The company’s fleet of automated trucks, running at the Pilbara sites in Australia, is controlled from its operations centre in Perth. The centre also runs the whole of the Pilbara supply chain including 14 mines, 1,400 kilometres of rail and three separate port terminals.

Rio Tinto said its two-year trial of the Autonomous Haulage System technology on the trucks, at the West Angelas mine, had performed “well above expectations”, and that it was deploying trucks at the Yandicoogina mine.

In April, Albanese said the automation, part of Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future programme, was critical in meeting a surge in commodity demands.

The programme began in 200, with remote-control ‘intelligent’ trains, drills and trucks operating within the group’s iron ore mining operations, with Pilbara in Australia being the first site.

Pilbara uses FrontRunner trucks and IT control systems from supplier Komatsu. Artificial intelligence technology in the system learns the layout of the mine, how to recognise and avoid other vehicles and obstacles, and how to ferry loads around quickly and efficiently.

The Pilbara site is also testing high precision GPS, advanced wide area networking to improve machine control communication, and real time safety monitoring of personnel and equipment using proximity detection.

Photo: Tim Jarrett