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Automatic For The People

Published by , Editorial Assistant
Global Mining Review,

Australia has a long history of introducing autonomous mining solutions, given the country’s relatively early shift towards tighter workplace health and safety standards.

Automatic For The People

It makes sense, then, that Iron Bridge, a joint venture mining project between Fortescue Metals Group subsidiary FMG Magnetite and Formosa Steel IB, is the testing ground for a new MKII autonomous version of Swedish company Epiroc’s SmartROC D65 surface drill rig.

The SmartROC D65 MKII Autonomous project is part of a broader Epiroc strategic vision to tackle autonomous mining just as demand for the technology begins to skyrocket. With little to no on-site human intervention, pit-to-port autonomous solutions will soon become more common.

Automation’s advantages are clear regarding productivity, efficiency, and safety. Market research platform, Markets and Markets, projects the global mining automation market will be worth US$5.1 billion by 2029, with a compound annual growth rate of 7.3% between 2024 and 2029.

Leaning into an autonomous future

Epiroc, and before it, Atlas Copco, produces drill rigs, loaders, and trucks for opencast and underground mines. It has also spent more than two decades developing and delivering different levels of automation technology for its products.

In 2014, the company made a significant leap forward when it unveiled an autonomous version of its Pit Viper 351 – the market’s first fully autonomous blast drill. By 2020, more than 50 autonomous Pit Vipers were in operation globally. Today, there are more than 100.

Further developments followed, including the 2022 introduction of automatic bit changer technology for the Pit Viper platform and the 2022 introduction of Epiroc’s Mobius for Drills multi-drill command, control, and monitoring software.

Epiroc has also made recent advancements in developing autonomous versions of its surface crawler drills, the latest of which is its SmartROC D65 MKII Autonomous test rig at Iron Bridge. The programme follows a 2018 pilot project at the Hollinger gold mine in Timmins, Canada, during which Epiroc tested an MKI version of the rig.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, Epiroc worked closely with Fortescue to agree on a partnership to use the SmartROC D65 MKII Autonomous test rig on a Fortescue mine site for a trial period of at least 12 months. The trial’s objective was to provide Fortescue with an autonomous surface drill rig solution, developing and demonstrating its performance in line with agreed KPIs, while providing Epiroc with real-time test information under realistic mining conditions in a suitable site environment.

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Australian mining news Mining equipment news