Advancing Automation

Teck Pilots Autonomous Haul Trucks at its Highland Valley Copper Mine

International Copper Association member, Teck Resources, serves as leader in combining innovation and sustainable development in the mining industry.

To assess one new breakthrough technology and whether it could extend the lifespan of mining operations, in 2018 officials at Teck launched a six-vehicle, autonomous haul truck pilot project at Highland Valley Copper (HVC), their British Columbia asset. The trucks are made by Caterpillar Inc., which further partnered with a self-driving vehicle startup, Virginia-based Torc Robotics, to develop the machinery.

No Fleeting Experiment

At HVC, a low-grade copper and molybdenum deposit and one of the world’s largest, most efficient mines, Teck is transforming 6 of its 50-strong, Caterpillar truck fleet into autonomous vehicles. The deployment represents the first such autonomous fleet in the world to operate in a deep pit complex, according to Teck officials. This development is critical for the mining industry as the new technology greatly facilitates extraction of new ore deposits while reducing the asset’s environmental footprint.

In total, over 100 of the Caterpillar units were operational at mines worldwide at the end of 2018, according to Caterpillar company officials. Its autonomous fleet of 56 Cat 793F trucks have achieved an overall 20 percent greater production relative to cost than manned trucks in the mining complexes.

In nearly five years of operation, according to company officials, Caterpillar’s autonomous trucks have hauled 400-plus million metric tonnes of material with greater than 99.95 percent system availability. Without injuries to personnel, shift changes, or work breaks, the trucks clock an average of 2.5 hours more operating time per day than manned vehicles.

We want to do all we can to help customers get the most out of their existing equipment assets— modernizing machines with new technology is a proven way to do that.”

– Sean McGinnis, Product Manager, Caterpillar Mining Technology

In addition to better safety, automation decreases the need for training and retraining of new operators amid worker turnover. Moreover, according to Caterpillar representatives, the machines get “smarter”—more accurate and faster—over time, allowing them to continually improve the execution of tasks. The trucks’ design, Caterpillar officials note, accommodates the multiple challenges inherent in the mining business.

Against this backdrop, HVC production fell to 93,000 tonnes in 2017, down from 119,000 tonnes in 2016, according to Teck. A potential extension project, HVC 2040, is pending to enhance operational mine life to the year 2040 and supports jobs and economic activity in the region. New technology will crucial to this expansion.

HVC 2040 is mining approximately 20 percent lower grade ore than the current operation, so finding new, more efficient ways of operating is critical to making that project possible.”

– Chris Stannell, Teck Senior Communications Specialist

Resources and reserves at HVC are currently forecast to support mining production rates through 2028, and new technology will extend operations beyond this timeline. Teck, meanwhile, is conducting exploration around HVC to locate copper deposits near the shuttered, Bethlehem mines that previously operated in the 1960s and 1970s.

Sense and Sensibility

The haul trucks are building on other innovative technologies that Teck has advanced at HVC throughout 2018. In particular, its shovel-mounted sensors, developed by MineSense, deploy x-rays to analyze shovel bucket contents to distill waste rock from valuable ore, enhancing productivity while conserving energy.

Through these advances, Teck officials are forecasting $15 million in annual savings for the HVC project and potential for $75 million annual savings spanning its operations. By rolling out this new innovation, however, Teck is doing more than just saving money—it is becoming a trailblazer in automation and, ultimately, sustainability. 

About Teck Resources Ltd.

Headquartered in Vancouver, Teck is Canada’s largest diversified resource firm. Dedicated to responsible mining and mineral development across jurisdictions, it has a major focus on copper, in addition to steelmaking coal, zinc and energy. Teck has four operating copper mines in Canada, Chile and Peru, and copper development projects in North and South America.

About Caterpillar Inc.

Caterpillar designs, develops, engineers, markets and sells machinery, engines, financial products and insurance via a global dealer network. Headquartered in Deerfield, Ill., it has become the world’s largest construction equipment manufacturer since it was first established in 1925 and is a top builder of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives.

About Highland Valley Copper

The Highland Valley Copper (HVC) project lies 17 km west of Logan Lake and approximately 50 km southwest of Kamloops in British Columbia. Teck has a 100 percent stake in HVC, a large, low-grade copper and molybdenum deposit with production through autogenous and semi-autogenous grinding and flotation.

About The Copper Alliance®

The Copper Alliance is a network of regional copper centers and their industry-leading members. It is responsible for guiding policy and strategy and for funding international initiatives and promotional activities. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the organization has offices in four primary regions: Europe and Africa, Asia, Latin America and North America. Copper Alliance programs and initiatives are executed in more than 60 countries through its regional offices and country-level copper promotion centers.

25 April 2019

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