A FLEET of 120 autonomous trucks are to be used in a world-first project to haul ore in Western Australia.

The trucks, designed and developed by mining group Mineral Resources and Swedish automation specialist Hexagon Autonomous Solutions, are seen as an answer to increasing transport efficiency while reducing costs and eliminating driver fatigue.

The world’s first fully autonomous road trains will be used on private roads at Mineral Resources’ (MinRes) flagship Onslow Iron project in WA.

The vehicles combine technological expertise from Hexagon’s Autonomous Solutions with MinRes’ operational knowledge and promise enormous benefits.

This includes removing the risk of driver fatigue, increasing fleet availability, lowering operating costs and reducing fuel use and emissions.

MinRes said that a team of operators will control the fleet from a central operating centre in Onslow. An artificial intelligence-powered monitoring system is also being developed.

Each triple-trailer vehicle will carry 330 tonnes of iron ore about 150km on a dedicated private haul road from the Ken’s Bore mine site to the Port of Ashburton.

Ore will be transported to a 220,000-tonne enclosed, negative pressure storage facility at the port.

From there, 20,000-tonne capacity transhippers will move the ore to cape-size carriers 40 kilometres off the coast.

The project, which is the cornerstone of MinRes’ strategy to deliver low-cost, long-life iron ore operations, will ship about 35 million tonnes of iron ore per year from mid-2024.

The steps to create the wold’s first autonomous haulage system started with testing of autonomous road trains at MinRes’ Yilgarn iron ore operations in late 2021, before the technology was rolled out at Onslow Iron.

MinRes chief executive of Mining Services, Mike Grey, said: “We’re excited to cement our partnership with Hexagon to deliver the world’s first fleet of autonomous roadtrains, which will be an essential part of Onslow Iron’s safe, efficient and dust-free solution for hauling ore.

“Automation will remove the risk of driver fatigue, lower operating costs and reduce fuel use and emissions.

“There’s enormous potential for these vehicles to transform mining across the world.”

Hexagon President and CEO Paolo Guglielmini said: “At Hexagon, we see autonomy as a way to vastly improve our world.

“Today’s agreement with MinRes will ensure that transport activities will be safer, more sustainable, and more productive. I’m excited to see how similar solutions can be applied in other markets such as agriculture and heavy industry.”

Safety is at the forefront of the project’s design. MinRes said that there would be no interaction between the autonomous road trains operating on the haul road and vehicles using public roads.

MinRes last year showed the potential of the autonomous road train system for hauling ore when it demonstrated a triple-trailer unit.

The latest step was a culmination of MinRes’ announcement in December 2021 that it would run a fleet of 425 tonne Gross Combination Mass (GCM) triple-trailer road trains operating across multiple convoys, with each road train convoy consisting of up to five prime mover trucks, with three trailers each, hauling the ore from the mine-site to the Port of Ashburton.

The autonomous road train solution integrates Hexagon’s drive-by-wire technology with an autonomous management system to orchestrate vehicle movement.

A successful pilot project was then employed at MinRes’ Yilgarn operations using 385 tonne GCM triple-trailer road trains, which have been tailored for the specific economic constraints of iron ore and other bulk commodities.

The testing was then ramped up to 425 tonne GCM in time for the Ashburton Hub Project.

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