Vale’s (NYSE: VALE) driverless trucks achieved a major milestone this week as they have moved 100 million tonnes of material since first introduced at the company’s Brucutu iron ore mine in 2016.
The amount of ore transported is equivalent to the weight of 35,000 major soccer stadiums like the Maracanã, in Rio de Janeiro.
In terms of distance travelled, the trucks have already covered 1.8 million km — or 46 laps around the Earth, Vale said.
Over the past five years autonomous trucks have not been involved in any accidents at the mine, the largest in Minas Gerais state and the company’s second biggest, behind Carajás.
Carbon emissions have been reduced due to lower fuel consumption and the mine’s productivity has increased, Vale said.
With a capacity to transport 240 tonnes, the trucks are controlled by computer systems, GPS, radar and artificial intelligence, covering the route between the mining front and the unloading area.
In 2019, all 13 trucks circulating in Brucutu were already using the new technology, making it the first mine in Brazil with 100% autonomous operations.
Vale said fuel consumption of autonomous trucks is 11% lower than traditional vehicles, resulting in a reduction of 4,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
The trucks favoured the maintenance of equipment. Tires had a 35% increase in their useful life – 10% points more than expected, Vale said. In addition to saving the company money, this number generates less waste disposal.
Drivers who used to stay in the cabin have been trained and relocated to other functions, mainly in control rooms, where they have air conditioning and no vibration or noise.
“There are many results and lessons learned to be celebrated with the current level of maturity of the autonomous mine,” Jefferson Corraide , executive manager of the Brucutu and Água Limpa complex said in the statement. “Certainly the most important advance provided by the implementation is the reduction of people’s exposure to risk.”
Vale is also investing in autonomous drills. There are currently 11 of them in operations in Minas Gerais and Pará. Another ongoing project is to automate yard machines, which has already been completed in Malaysia and is being implemented in four Brazilian states.
The miner aims to have 21 autonomous drills across Carajas, Brucutu and Itabira before the end of the year. It also wants to expand the fleet to 50 trucks by the end of 2024, with an investment estimated in $400 million. It also plans to put into permanent operation 10 autonomous trucks at its Carajás mine, the world’s largest iron ore open pit mine.