Vale started operating six autonomous haul trucks in the Carajás iron
ore complex, in the state of Pará, Brazil. By the end of the year, ten
vehicles will be operating at the site. This initiative is part of a set
of actions aimed at increasing employee safety, making the operation
more environmentally sustainable and obtaining gains in competitiveness.
The implementation is being accompanied by a human resources plan to
train employees to work with new digital technologies.
Capable of moving 320 metric tons at a time, the autonomous trucks were
being tested in an isolated area in Carajás since 2019. Last week they
started the final testing phase at the N4E mine and yesterday, September
1st, they officially went live. In the entire Carajás Complex, four
autonomous drills are already in operation and by the end of the year
this number will get to seven drills.
Autonomous haul trucks parked in the mining area in Carajás. Photo:
Michael Roger/ Vale
The autonomous operation began to be implemented by Vale at the Brucutu
mine, in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, in 2016, and today it covers
all 13 haul trucks at that unit. Since the implementation in Brucutu, no
accident caused by trucks has been recorded. The autonomous trucks are
controlled by computer systems, GPS, radar and artificial intelligence,
covering the route between the mining front and the unloading area. Upon
detecting risks, the equipment stops its operations until the path is
cleared again. The safety system's sensors are capable of detecting
both larger objects such as large rocks and other trucks, as well as
human beings in the vicinity of the road. Therefore, risky situations,
such as tipping and collision, were eliminated.
“The introduction of autonomous trucks in Carajás is another step by
Vale towards its ambition to become a reference in safety in mining and
towards the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 33% until 2030”, says
Antônio Padovezi, director of Vale's Northern Corridor .
"Technology reduces the exposure of employees to the risks inherent
to the activity and also brings environmental benefits, reinforcing our
new pact with society ".
People at the center of decisions
In the autonomous truck there is no operator in the cabin. But people
continue to play a relevant role in the operation. Other equipment
circulating through the mine, such as motor graders and tractors, will
continue to be manned. Therefore, the operators of these vehicles
received training to interact with autonomous trucks. 32 operators have
already been trained and by the end of the year this number will reach
120. There will be 208 hours of training for each operator, totaling
almost 25,000 hours.
Operator in control room far from the mining site. Photo: Michael
Over the next 12 months, the operation will be assisted by the truck
supplier. After this period, it is expected that Vale fully assumes the
operation. When this occurs, new jobs will be created in control rooms,
far from the mining front.
“The implementation of autonomous workers in the operation is being
carried out with the concern of keeping people at the center of
decisions”, explains the manager of the Autonomous Program, Pedro
Bemfica. “The introduction of digital technology drives the evolution of
employees' professional skills and makes them more prepared for the
industry's digital transformation trend”.
Environment and competitiveness
Autonomous operation also brings relevant environmental benefits. The
more constant performance of the trucks and the increase in their
average speed will allow a reduction of about 5% in fuel consumption,
which results in a lower volume of CO2 and particulate emissions. Based
on market data, it is expected an increase in the useful life of the
equipment of around 7%, reducing generation of waste such as parts and
lubricants, and an increased in the life span of tires of approximately
25%, which will also lead to a lower waste generation of this item.
The project also shall lead to an increase in the competitiveness of
Vale's operations. There will be greater efficiency, which will
result in greater hourly productivity. Maintenance costs are expected to
drop by 3%.
Vale's autonomous program continues to expand, with a total
investment of around US$34 million in 2021. By the end of the year, 23
trucks, 21 drills and four stocking yards (stackers and reclaimers) will
be in operation throughout the company in four Brazilian states (Pará,
Minas Gerais, Maranhão and Rio de Janeiro). Abroad, autonomous operation
is already a reality in Canada, with drills and scoops, and in Malaysia,
with stocking yard machines.
Innovation for safety
Innovation is key for Vale to improve people's lives and transform
the future together with society. In its strategy, the company
prioritizes safety, reliability, low carbon agenda and the contribution
to society. Safety innovation initiatives have been grouped since 2021
in the Safety Transformation Program, which has three main objectives:
create initiatives to ensure safe processes; accelerate the
implementation of controls in the operation; and remove people from
risky activities using technologies such as remote operations,
autonomous and robotics. Within the scope of the program are projects
for the implementation of autonomous vehicles, implementation of fatigue
detection systems for operators and the use of augmented reality for
inspections and maintenance.