McKinsey estimates that by 2035, the age of smart mining achieved through autonomous mining using data analysis and digital technologies like artificial intelligence will save between $290 billion and $390billion annually for mineral raw materials producers. As mines are becoming more interconnected, it has driven automation and digitalisation of key process controls.

Mining companies are increasingly turning to autonomous haulage systems to improve efficiency and productivity while increasing safety and sustainability. Historically, the mining industry lagged in the application of technology owing to the long lead times required to develop and commercialize new equipment in mining. 

Global Road Technology has stepped up to the autonomous mining task at hand. Through continuous innovation and re-imagining mining, we have introduced GRT SMART Dosing Units for our dust suppression systems. We seek to improve mine productivity whilst saving lives from dust generated from pit to port activities. The automated dosing units are the key hardware component of GRT’s industry-leading dust suppression systems for autonomous mines offering the most effective haul road management and dust control. As enablers of autonomous mining operations in automated operating zones, our dosing units allow more efficient use of resources in the smart approach to autonomous mining.

What is autonomous mining?

Mines that seamlessly run on smart and intelligent mining technologies via an ecosystem of interoperable autonomous operations and programs are known as autonomous mines. Autonomous means a very controlled process that is all about reducing variability and making everything work as it should. Original equipment manufacturers provide autonomous mines with solutions that are used by the mining workforce operating remotely from the integrated operations remote center. The critical success factors to autonomous mines include:

  • data readiness
  • interoperability
  • cybersecurity
  • connectivity and infrastructure
  • workforce
  • operating at multiple speeds

What is the history of automation in mines?

Since the 1960s, there has been exponential progress in the automation of mining systems Chronologically, mine automation progress can be categorized into three stages. Stage one saw the deployment of the first unmanned mining rail carriages at General Blumenthal mine, Germany, in 1967. This was followed by the introduction of remote-controlled underground machines in the mid-1970s, and the final stage saw the introduction of remote-operated load and haul machines for surface mines in the mid-1990s. Currently, some major mining processes including drilling, excavation, hauling, crushing and milling, have been automated and teleoperated from centralized locations.

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

How do autonomous mines run from pit to port?

The target operations of autonomous mines utilize smart and intelligent mining technologies via an ecosystem of various autonomous operations and programs. The following table gives a representation of autonomous mine operations and their key points:

Mine operation  Key points  
Acquire/Explore  Autonomous mining as an investor pull-in factor 
Design  Mine design with zero entry in mind 
Plan/Engineering  Live mine planning 
Development  Autonomous drones 
Drill Autonomous drilling systems 
Blast Autonomous blasting systems 
Load/Haul  Autonomous excavators, autonomous mining trucks, autonomous shovels, autonomous wheel loader, autonomous water trucks, autonomous bulldozers, payload management systems, GRT SMART dosing units 
Bulk Sorting  Autonomous conveyor systems, autonomous straddle carriers 
Mine Tailings  Autonomous mine tailing dam monitoring systems 
Rail  Autonomous road trains 
Port  Autonomous ship loaders  

What transition does it take to move to an autonomous mine?

Central to the vision of autonomous mines and the concept of autonomy are mines that fundamentally change the way they operate:

From –

  • Mines designed for maximizing production
  • Energy and water used as required
  • Asset dependent on operator control and oversight
  • Siloed teams organized by activities
  • Low data and system compatibility
  • Humans at the dirty end of the mining
  • Economies of scale
  • Pre-determined mine plan
  • Plan-driven decision making
  • Manual dust suppression operations at the standpipe

To –

  • Mines designed for maximizing productivity
  • Minimal waste, energy, water and environmental footprint
  • Decision autonomy; self-aware and self-organizing
  • 100% interoperability
  • Humans operating remotely
  • Scaled for economics and agility
  • Customer-driven, live mine planning
  • Data-driven decision making
  • Automated dust suppression operations at the standpipe

What are the six technology pillars of autonomous mining?

Work from Daniel Sager in literature research from various sources resulted in the six pillars of autonomous mining technology. They are the main ingredients and all of them are very important. 

Data – IT-OT data integration (on-premise and cloud) for company-wide access to data, interoperability and connection of operation systems with business planning. 

Connectivity – IIoT, integrated platforms, wireless communication as a communication and navigation backbone for all autonomous equipment. 

Decision making – Analytics, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence to leverage group-wide data, create insights and improve capabilities of autonomous operations. 

Remote operation centres – Managing and actively controlling plant automation systems, fleet management systems, and remote-controlled machines. 

Digitally enabled workforce – Wearables, tablets, and mobile to receive insights and provide real-time status updates. 

Cyber security – Defense-in-depth-strategy suitable for Industry 4.0 control and business information system architecture. 

Which companies run autonomous mine operations?

There are several companies across the world that run autonomous mines although bulk of these autonomous mines are in Australia. The following companies run autonomous mines:

  • BMA
  • FMG
  • Anglo American
  • Codelco
  • Roy Hill
  • Jellinbah
  • Suncor
  • Teck
  • Thiess
  • Vale
  • Stanwell
  • Whitehaven
  • Barrick

Autonomous mining trucks 

Autonomous mine haul trucks, also known as driverless or robot haul trucks, have gained a lot of popularity in recent years. In the 2020/2021 mining calendar there were 855 autonomous mining trucks in the mining industry. Given in the table below companies driving the autonomy, their fleet management systems and the number of autonomous mining trucks:

Autonomy  Fleet management system Number of trucks 
CAT MineStar  97
CAT MineStar  70
Komatsu  Dispatch 20
ASI Mobius 15
CAT  MineStar 183
ASI Mobius  77
CAT MineStar  5
Komatsu Dispatch 179
Komatsu Dispatch  46
Komatsu Dispatch 11
CAT MineStar 10
CAT MineStar 60
Hitachi Wenco  6
CAT MineStar 30
Hitachi Wenco 41
Komatsu MineStar  5

What are the benefits of autonomous mining? 

There are several documented benefits of autonomous mining in different mines around the world and some of them include: 

  • reduces personnel risk exposure 
  • accurate, accessible and faster operational data 
  • improved efficiency and productivity 
  • provides operators with a more ergonomics and comfort of operations 
  • real-time asset monitoring 
  • offer remote enabled solutions 
  • aligns people and process data to deliver dependable production and profitability
  • bring operations closer to urban centres
  • enables centralizing the operation of multiple sites 
  • better usage of data and benchmarking
  • increase in component lifespan 
  • reduce fuel consumption, GHG emissions, water and energy consumption and waste
  • save money and energy with less ventilation 
  • reducing noise pollution by 80%
  • less maintenance required
  • predictive analysis in equipment malfunctioning 
  • remote visibility, telemetry and wireless communication 
  • more time saving

Challenges of Autonomous mines – Haul Road Maintenance

Ineffective haul road maintenance will result in slow or stop events of the Autonomous Mining Trucks (AMT). To improve the haul road maintenance, we first need to look at the contributing factors to these slow or stop events:

  • Proximity – Water Truck (WT) or Grader (GRD) operating in the vicinity of AMTs.
  • Loss of Traction – WT over-watering road leading to AMT losing traction. 
  • Rutting – Poor road conditions get detected as obstacles by the AMTs.
  • Dust – Speed restrictions are placed on AMTs when dust levels are too high.
  • Knock-on effect – AMT stopped behind AMT that been affected by either proximity, loss of traction, rutting, or dust. 

How Global Road Technology can make your autonomous mining a success?

With the increase in autonomous mining operations, GRT approaches autonomous mining dust suppression as key to the mine’s success. We at GRT believe that Dust suppression systems must evolve to meet the needs of autonomous mining applications.

Global Road Technology recently introduced GRT SMART Dosing Units as part of our shift to autonomy. Designed and assembled by GRT’s engineers, these Australian Made SMART Dosing Units consist of a central control & communication module combined with electrical and mechanical hardware that provides the ability to remotely control and automate product dosage, error detection, flow rates, and more.

These Australian made dosing units are the core of our dust suppression system in delivering innovative solutions to our mining clientele. Hence it is important for us to understand autonomous mines in delivering our dust suppression systems as a progressive step in autonomous operating zones. They allow mines to capture and use robust data to improve your water cart fleet management while cost-effectively eliminating dust.


Get access to powerful data that includes:

  • Water consumption (and savings)
  • Standpipe utilization
  • The efficiency of water truck operations
  • Number of water truck fills per chosen reporting period (shift/week/month)
  • Product levels and dosage rates
  • Operational data and notifications on the product, pumps, and power units

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