Acknowledgement of Diaco’s managing director in the honoring ceremony #3

In a statement Simon Trott, Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive, said: “The commissioning of Gudai-Darri represents the successful delivery of our first greenfield mine in over a decade. It sets a new standard for Rio Tinto mine developments through its deployment of technology and innovation.”

Digital twins and autonomous trucks
Mark Davies, Rio Tinto chief technical officer, notes that: “In building this new hub we have brought together the best of our innovations, including autonomous trucks, trains and drills. This suite of autonomous assets complements the planned deployment of other leading-edge technologies.”

Chief among these new innovations is a full digital replica of the processing plant, known as a ‘digital twin’. Digital twins are a virtual version of an asset that incorporates a process model and draws in real-time feedback from process instrumentation, power and water usage. They allow for the reliable prediction of changes over the lifetime of the mine, and are sophisticated enough to take into consideration how changes in ore quality and head grade could affect operations.

It also collects below surface geological data. This allows teams to monitor and respond to data collected from the plant. The autonomous assets are monitored remotely from Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre 1,500 kilometres away in Perth, and the digital data is used to provide an interactive 3D environment for virtual reality training.

Similarly, the use of autonomous vehicles in mining has been growing rapidly since the first Komatsu autonomous trucks entered into production in 2008 according to Michael Lewis, technical director at Komatsu.

Much of this has been driven by concerns over worker safety; a report from the Global Mining Guidelines Group calls for a “system safety approach” for mining companies deploying and using autonomous systems. The group says there is an urgent need to addresses the use of autonomous systems within the mining industry, both surface and underground.

Chirag Sathe, project co-leader and principal mining systems at BHP, commented in the paper: “With an ever-increasing use of technology in mining, particularly in surface mining equipment, it is important to understand the overall impact of systems implementation on safety.”

Production gains
Lower-than-expected iron ore production put Rio Tinto under significant pressure earlier this year. Labour shortages combined with supply chain issues impeded the Anglo-Australian mining giant’s efforts to ramp up its Pilbara operations, and it shipped just 71.5Mt of iron ore in the three months to 31 March, compared with 77.8 Mt a year earlier.

But by the second quarter there was a definite improvement, setting the stage nicely for the start of production at Gudai-Darri. A total of 79.9Mt was shipped from Pilbara, which represents a 12% increase on the first quarter, and speaking in August at the Melbourne Mining Club Kellie Parker, Rio Tinto chief executive, said further increases can be expected when the Pilbara power supply gets into full swing.

“The Pilbara offers one of the best opportunities in the world to harness solar and wind power for energy generation at our assets,” said Parker. “We are working to establish an integrated network of solar and wind power sources and have called for proposals for at least four gigawatts of large-scale solar and wind capacity in Queensland.”

The Pilbara solar farm is expected to supply about a third of the mine’s average electricity from August. This will be complemented by a new lithium-ion battery energy storage system.

Gudai-Darri is just one of a quartet of projects Rio Tinto has embarked on in recent years, as the miner looks to expand its operations and increase production. Other projects, including West Angelas and Western Turner Syncline Phase 2, came online last year with Robe Valley expected in the September quarter. These are collectively aimed at replacing 130Mt of capacity from other sites.

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