Assessing the impact of driverless haul trucks in Australian surface mining
Australia has been a leading mining nation and its mines continue to attract substantial investment due to its strong mineral endowment, mining tradition and high skills base. In recent years Australian mining companies have been facing higher labour costs, which need to be offset by other savings. Automating mine-site machinery offers one potential source of such savings. Underground mines pioneered automated technology largely for safety and mine accessibility reasons and to reduce operating costs. Yet these operations now represent a much smaller portion of the total ore tonnes mined due to the changing mining techniques meaning larger lower grade deposits are becoming economic. It appears the future of mine automation will be directed by surface mining as this maturing technology finds further applications above ground and in the next decade large scale open pit automation trials gain more momentum. This paper assesses the implications of introducing driverless haul trucks in a typical large remote Australian open-pit mine. Such automation will save employee and associated costs, increase operational productive hours and ultimately will reduce mine site workforce numbers. While there will be fewer jobs per mine, with reduced costs and higher productivity some previously uneconomic mines may again be profitable. The social implications of greater mine site automation are the reduction in population of remote mining towns and a decrease in the lower skilled labour requirements for the mining sector. There will be an increase in fly-in fly-out mining operations and companies will establish remote control centres for automated mines in larger cities. This may decrease overall labour requirements and so reduce employment in the sector; therefore, the government should be mindful of implementing policies that ensure a fair return on the economic rent of mineral leases.
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- Bartos, Paul J., 2007. "Is mining a high-tech industry: Investigations into innovation and productivity advance," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 149-158, December.
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