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Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future™ programme tests advanced technologies for underground tunnelling, exploration and mineral recovery


Rio Tinto is testing new techniques for underground tunnelling, mineral exploration and improved recovery of ore in its latest push to develop competitive advantage through its Mine of the FutureTM programme.

Launched in 2008, Mine of the FutureTM introduces next-generation technologies for mining operations that aim to reduce costs, increase efficiency and improve health, safety and environmental performance.

Shaft and tunnel boring systems

Rio Tinto is in advanced stages of developing new shaft and tunnel boring systems aimed at significantly reducing the time taken to excavate underground.

The tunnel boring system will be trialled next year at the Northparkes copper and gold mine in New South Wales with shaft boring system trials to follow.

Rio Tinto believes these rapid mine construction developments through the tunnel and shaft boring systems could lead to a reduction of up to 40 per cent in the time taken to construct an underground mine.

Innovation in mineral recovery

Rio Tinto is working on ways of improving rates of ore recovery from mature and complex deposits.

Pilot projects are underway in both iron ore and copper, aiming to upgrade marginal ore, reclaim ore from waste streams and improve efficiency through lower energy consumption.

Advanced exploration technologies

An airborne gravity gradiometer is being tested as a potential tool for finding the next tier one ore body. The device can be deployed in an aeroplane to detect small changes in the gravitational forces which result in density differences in the earth that indicate potential mineral deposits.

The gradiometer represents a step change in exploration geophysics and will fill a gap in airborne mineral exploration methods, providing Rio Tinto with specific satellite mapping to help it find the possible deposits of the future.

Rio Tinto head of innovation John McGagh said “The revolutionary technologies being tested now cement Rio Tinto’s leading position in the field of mining innovation. Mine of the FutureTM is giving Rio Tinto a competitive edge in the global mining landscape by generating more efficient and cost-competitive methods of finding, extracting and processing mineral resources and providing new, engaging and diverse employment opportunities.”

Recent milestones in the Mine of the FutureTM programme include the one-year anniversary of servicing the Pilbara from the Operations Centre in Perth, Western Australia; and trialling and initial roll-out of automated haulage and drilling systems. The programme is run in conjunction with leading universities and organisations.

Operations Centre

Rio Tinto’s Pilbara iron ore mining and infrastructure has been controlled remotely for the past 12 months from the Operations Centre in Perth. The Centre has more than 400 employees overseeing and ensuring the synchronisation of the mine, rail and port systems in the Pilbara region.

The benefits of the Operations Centre can already be quantified with increased efficiency, improved safety, decreased variability and better identification of performance issues across the iron ore business in Western Australia.

Automated mining systems

Rio Tinto plans to double its fleet of driverless haul trucks at its iron ore operations in Western Australia following a successful two-year trial at the West Angelas mine.

The broader operational deployment of the autonomous trucks marks a step forward in the development of the Mine of the FutureTM vision, delivering improved safety and production efficiency in haulage.

Rio Tinto is also trialling autonomous production drills designed to provide a reliable and repeatable process in blast-hole drilling.

The intent of the integrated system is that automated blast-hole drill rigs will precisely position the blast holes, conduct live rock analysis, dictate to the explosives delivery vehicle the correct charge for each hole and provide data supporting three dimensional mapping systems to provide detailed imaging of each deposit. A number of critical system components have already been successfully tested in Rio Tinto operations.

About Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto is a leading international mining group headquartered in the UK, combining Rio Tinto plc, a London and NYSE listed company, and Rio Tinto Limited, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange.

Rio Tinto’s business is finding, mining, and processing mineral resources. Major products are aluminium, copper, diamonds, energy (coal and uranium), gold, industrial minerals (borax, titanium dioxide, salt, talc) and iron ore. Activities span the world but are strongly represented in Australia and North America with significant businesses in South America, Asia, Europe and southern Africa.


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