The Fortescue Metals Group has decided to use robotic dump trucks in the Solomon project being planned for the Pilbara region of Australia's North West. Andrew Forrest’s company will have an automation rollout in Western Australia that is larger than the one operated by rival company Rio Tinto.
Rio Tinto has been involved in a pilot test project with these automated trucks since 2008. It announced that it was planning to double the size of its remote truck fleet from five to ten by April 2012. However Fortescue Metals has given Caterpillar and its local distributor Westrac a contract for 12 driverless trucks by the end of the year.
The trucks are to have the capacity to handle 200 tonne payloads each and will be used in the Solomon mine. And this is just the first stage. It hopes to have 45 trucks handling 120 million tonnes of iron ore annually from Solomon by 2015. Rio's trucks can haul 320 tonnes each.
Jim Walker the managing director of Westrac said that a Pilbara truck driver and associated housing, meals and transport cost about $1 million a year. With the driverless trucks much of this cost will be slashed. Caterpillar Group president Steve Wunning said the equipment would also provide a significant improvement in mine safety and reduce Solomon's environmental footprint.