BHP to mobilise autonomous trucks in QLD by mid-2020

Goonyella Riverside mine manager Sean Milfull. Image: BMA

BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) is set to introduce autonomous haulage at the Goonyella Riverside coal mine in Queensland next year in an effort to reduce exposure to safety risks.

The move will not involve any forced redundancies, but is anticipated to increase truck hours and deliver more consistent cycle times.

Goonyella Riverside will be the first BMA site to implement autonomous haulage, with the first trucks expected to be operational in the first half of 2020.

The coal miner will undergo a staged conversion of 86 converted Komatsu trucks over the next two years.

BMA asset president James Palmer said the decision resulted from an extensive engagement with the workforce, community and government.

The company has prepared its workforce for the change and talked about the potential for increased automation for several months.

“While the first autonomous vehicles will not operate at the site until 2020, and full roll out will take around two years, we want to give people in our workforce and the community as much notice as possible of this change,” Palmer said.

“Autonomous haulage will help us improve safety and productivity performance, and it is our people who will be at the centre of making this change a success.”

BMA plans to deliver more than 40,000 hours of training to help prepare for Goonyella Riverside’s autonomous future.

While BMA understands that automation represents a significant change, Palmer believes it offers a unique opportunity for people to gain new skills.

BMA has also recruited new permanent positions in operations and created new roles in preparation for autonomous haulage.

The company hasn’t made any further decisions to implement autonomous haulage at its other Queensland coal sites. These decisions will be made on a site-by-site basis, according to BMA.

BHP has committed to the autonomous project soon after Anglo American shied away from introducing the technology at one of its Queensland coal operations.

Anglo American scrapped a plan to deliver autonomous haulage systems (AHS) at the Dawson coal mine last month.

An Anglo American spokesperson said the company was prioritising other measures to achieve safer and more productive operations at Dawson, by overhauling its existing 23-strong fleet of CAT797 trucks instead of purchasing new trucks and implementing AHS.

BHP, meanwhile, flagged its intentions to add up to 500 more autonomous trucks to its Australian operations in July.

The driverless vehicles were being planned for the company’s iron ore and coal operations, Palmer said during a speech at the time.