Rio Tinto Mine Operating Driverless Trucks, Drills and Trains – What Next?


In this article from MIT Technology Review, Tom Simonite examines the progress of automation in the mining industry. As always, shipping reacts to external pressures, and it is only a matter of time until the clients at either side of the shipping link in the supply chain demand the same level of efficiency and lower costs.

Mining 24 Hours a Day with Robots

Mining companies are rolling out autonomous trucks, drills, and trains, which will boost efficiency but also reduce the need for human employees.

Each of these trucks is the size of a small two-story house. None has a driver or anyone else on board.

Mining company Rio Tinto has 73 of these titans hauling iron ore 24 hours a day at four mines in Australia’s Mars-red northwest corner. At this one, known as West Angelas, the vehicles work alongside robotic rock drilling rigs. The company is also upgrading the locomotives that haul ore hundreds of miles to port—the upgrades will allow the trains to drive themselves, and be loaded and unloaded automatically.

Rio Tinto intends its automated operations in Australia to preview a more efficient future for all of its mines—one that will also reduce the need for human miners. The rising capabilities and falling costs of robotics technology are allowing mining and oil companies to reimagine the dirty, dangerous business of getting resources out of the ground.

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BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, is also deploying driverless trucks and drills on iron ore mines in Australia. Suncor, Canada’s largest oil company, has begun testing driverless trucks on oil sands fields in Alberta.

“In the last couple of years we can just do so much more in terms of the sophistication of automation,” says Herman Herman, director of the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. The center helped Caterpillar develop its autonomous haul truck. Mining company Fortescue Metals Group is putting them to work in its own iron ore mines. Herman says the technology can be deployed sooner for mining than other applications, such as transportation on public roads. “It’s easier to deploy because these environments are already highly regulated,” he says.

Rio Tinto uses driverless trucks provided by Japan’s Komatsu. They find their way around using precision GPS and look out for obstacles using radar and laser sensors.

Rob Atkinson, who leads productivity efforts at Rio Tinto, says the fleet and other automation projects are already paying off. The company’s driverless trucks have proven to be roughly 15 percent cheaper to run than vehicles with humans behind the wheel, says Atkinson—a significant saving since haulage is by far a mine’s largest operational cost. “We’re going to continue as aggressively as possible down this path,” he says.

Trucks that drive themselves can spend more time working because software doesn’t need to stop for shift changes or bathroom breaks. They are also more predictable in how they do things like pull up for loading. “All those places where you could lose a few seconds or minutes by not being consistent add up,” says Atkinson. They also improve safety, he says.

The driverless locomotives, due to be tested extensively next year and fully deployed by 2018, are expected to bring similar benefits. Atkinson also anticipates savings on train maintenance, because software can be more predictable and gentle than any human in how it uses brakes and other controls. Diggers and bulldozers could be next to be automated.

Herman at CMU expects all large mining companies to widen their use of automation in the coming years as robotics continues to improve. The recent, sizeable investments by auto and tech companies in driverless cars will help accelerate improvements in the price and performance of the sensors, software, and other technologies needed.

Herman says many mining companies are well placed to expand automation rapidly, because they have already invested in centralized control systems that use software to coördinate and monitor their equipment. Rio Tinto, for example, gave the job of overseeing its autonomous trucks to staff at the company’s control center in Perth, 750 miles to the south. The center already plans train movements and in the future will shift from sending orders to people to directing driverless locomotives.

Atkinson of Rio Tinto acknowledges that just like earlier technologies that boosted efficiency, those changes will tend to reduce staffing levels, even if some new jobs are created servicing and managing autonomous machines. “It’s something that we’ve got to carefully manage, but it’s a reality of modern day life,” he says. “We will remain a very significant employer.”

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Posidonia: Lloyd’s List Briefing – Current State of Shipping


Sunday 5 June 2016.

The Lloyd’s List Briefing is now a traditional sharpener for Posidonia week. The event was presented by Richard Meade, the Editor of Lloyd’s List, assisted by head of the Greek desk, Nigel Lowry.

Christopher Palsen, the head of Lloyd’s List Intelligence research kicked off the event by setting the scene and offering his explanation of where shipping was, and why.

He posited that the dry bulk fleet now consisted of 11,149 ships, with a capacity of 784m dwt. With a substantial portion of the bulker fleet idle (average age 18.5 years), why had there been any ordering at all in this sector since 2008? The answer, in his opinion, was Chinese interests. Specifically, the five-year plan for 50% of imports into China to be carried by Chinese-owned ships. The result was a massive shipbuilding programme. This has flooded the market, but it has kept Chinese shipyards busy, and the cost of transport low. He also made the point that Chinese coastal (non-deep sea) shipping carries an estimated 2.5bn tonnes (of which 1bn tonnes is coal) on coastal ships. He admitted LLI had very little information on this fleet, except that it was very old, and was being replaced by modern deep-sea ships.

According to LLI, the global tanker fleet consist of 2,003 ships (this is too small for the whole fleet and is probably only the largest sectors – CJ) with a capacity of 367m dwt, of which 29m dwt was being used for storage. The orderbook stands at 64m dwt. He asked if there would be enough demand for all this tonnage?

According to LLI, there are 5,292 container ships, with a capacity of 19.8m TEU, with another 3.9m TEU on order. The key with this fleet is efficiency. He felt that there was significant growth potential in converting Chinese general cargo and break bulk cargoes into containised shipping.

On the economic demand side, Mr Palsen felt that the slower growth in China ( about half the past averages), was still robust. In his opinion, the drivers in the future will be India and other Asian countries.

On the energy side, according to Mr Palsen, around 85% of energy demand is supplied from hydrocarbons, and even if renewables grow fast as 15% pa, after a decade of growth, this would mean hydrocarbons still accounted for 75% of energy supply. He noted that shale gas production has resulted in the decoupling of the gas price and oil prices in US. It would appear that Saudi Arabia (by flooding the crude oil market) was winning the battle to kill off some smaller US opertors. But if the oil price rose again, would these fields come back onto the market?

JMM les europeens specialises dans les petits navires


JMM les europeens specialises dans les petits navires

Article in Japanese Maritime Press


Craig Jallal in Japanese paper April 2015

Changing Tides: Global Shipping Is Setting Up For A Ferocious Bull Run – Seeking Alpha


Changing Tides: Global Shipping Is Setting Up For A Ferocious Bull Run – Seeking Alpha.

Floods halt Mississippi River shipping, shut Port of St Louis | Reuters


Floods halt Mississippi River shipping, shut Port of St Louis | Reuters.

Capesize Orderbook down to 17% of the Fleet


The Capesize orderbook has shrunk from a high of 117% of the fleet in Q4 2008 to just 17% today. Of course, in the meantime the Capesize fleet has swollen from 141.84m dwt (817 ships) to 278.87m dwt (1505 ships), according to Clarkson Research data. Nonetheless, the slowdown in new orders brings the orderbook as a percentage of the fleet down to the level of Q3 2003. There is still another 36.4m dwt to be delivered in 2013, which is actually larger than the total Capesize fleet of thirty years ago.

Clarkson Research list three Capesize thirty year old or older as still live on their database. These include an Odense Lindo-built vessel, the 1982-built, 136,999 dwt “RAM PRASAD” operated by Essar Shipping. After launch she worked for the Danish electricity producer Elsam for twenty years. Clarksons report the vessel was bought by Goldenport Holdings in June 2002, when the Capesize fleet as a mere 88.9m dwt (orderbook 8.1% of the fleet) for $5m. In March 2008, when the Capesize orderbook stood at 93% of the then fleet, Goldenport sold the 25-year old ship to Chinese interests for $25m. Goldenport booked a $20m profit on the sale of the “SAMOS” as she was then called, and traded the ship through one of the best Capesize cycles ever. Seven months later the Capesize market crashed. Shipping, like comedy, is all in the timing.

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