Why Western Australia became the center of mine automation

Labour costs were the key driver that led to major investments in mine automation in Western Australia, says Greg Lilleyman, Rio Tinto's technology and innovation executive.

Lilleyman, who spoke to MINING.com last month at the CIM convention in Montreal, says the company was faced with too few miners able to work in remote Western Australia. It was also a time when iron ore demand was high.

In 2012 Rio Tinto invested US$500 million in autonomous trains. It also added fleets of autonomous trucks.

"We needed to very quickly develop the operation to capture the upside of the market from China" says Lilleyman.

"Labour costs were quite high. All of those factors coming together in one location meant that the investment case was ripe for the picking."

One of Lilleyman's key focus at the moment is big data to run predictive analytics, which should lessen unscheduled equipment maintenance.

"The equipment of today has many more sensors and data points coming through, real-time and online all the time," says Lilleyman.

"You can still see residual life or you can see where there failures that are going to occur, and you can schedule in activities instead of in an unplanned fashion."