Smarter technology

Smarter technology

Innovating for safety and productivity

Technology is transforming the workplace across all industries. Automation can bring significant benefits to companies – driving productivity, lowering costs and increasing safety.

Rio Tinto has pioneered the use of automation in the mining industry. Early adoption of technology has transformed productivity at some of our operations.

 

RTVis™ software RTVis™ software

The future of mining

In 2008, Rio Tinto unveiled its vision for the "mine of the future", our ambition to be the leader in automated mining and transport. Today, our programme is an approach used across Rio Tinto to find advanced ways of finding, extracting and processing minerals, while reducing environmental impacts and improving safety.

We begin by asking the question: "What new idea can we bring to mining to make it safer, more productive or more sustainable?" Here are some of our answers:

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autonomous trucks by 2019

  • We're establishing the world's first fully-autonomous heavy haul, long distance rail network. In 2017, the AutoHaul® project passed its first major test – running 100km without a driver on board – as we progress towards full commissioning in late 2018.
  • We were the first mining company to achieve fully automated hole pattern drilling without human intervention. Our Autonomous Drill System enables a single operator from a remote location to operate up to four autonomous drill rigs simultaneously. This technology is much safer for the operator and has improved both precision and equipment utilisation. Our Iron Ore business currently operates seven fully autonomous rigs for drilling production blast holes.

 

RTVis™ software

 

  • We've launched the world's first certified low CO2 aluminium, RenewAl™: a product of our Aluminium business's low-carbon energy portfolio and our cutting-edge AP smelting technology, which reduces electricity use and lowers emissions.
  • Our 3D visualisation technology RTVis™ delivers real-time 3D models of ore deposits located far beneath the surface that previously couldn’t be measured. This enables more accurate drilling and blasting, reduced explosive use and better waste classification.
  • Our proprietary Mine Automation System (MAS) allows us to combine myriad streams of data – including from our orebodies and our equipment – to deliver operational insights in real-time to step up our productivity performance. It helps give us a better understanding of what grade is where before we mine and is a powerful resource to drive productivity improvements from mine to market.
  • MAS and RTVis™ are the result of our partnership with the University of Sydney, where for ten years the Rio Tinto Centre for Mine Automation has been imagining and evolving the mine of the future. Partnering has been mutually beneficial for the university and Rio Tinto, allowing students to take theoretical models and test them in the field while giving our business access to some of the brightest minds in mining.

 

Reaping the benefits

Adopting automation into mining has brought us considerable benefits:

  • Implementing autonomous haulage means more material can be moved efficiently and safely, driving an increase in productivity.
  •  RTVis™ is now deployed in more than 95 per cent of our open-cut mines, boosting productivity and lowering costs.
  • Our Operations Centre in Perth enables all our mines, ports and rail systems to be operated from a single location, greatly increasing opportunities for shared experience and overall system improvement. The centre currently oversees a network of 16 mines, 1,700km of railway, four port terminals and two power plants.

We recognise that automation can create concern for workers, about what the impact would be for their jobs. While automation has brought a reduction in some traditional mining roles, it has also created new ones. And technology needs to be overseen and maintained by skilled people.

Achieving automation’s full potential requires people and technology working hand in hand. This will be our guiding principle as we continue looking for innovative ways to make mining safer, more productive and more sustainable.