From a two-person crushing contractor in 1992, Mineral Resources (MinRes) has completely evolved to become a majorly recognised player in the mining sector.
Now, it houses the ability to deliver mining services to some of the world’s largest mining companies.
MinRes and its subsidiaries offer a full suite of pit-to-port mining and mining logistics services including exploration, planning, mine design and construction, the construction and operation of minerals process facilities, commodity transportation and marketing services.
Undertaking a transformational growth journey that should reach its apex in the next five years, MinRes structures its business around four growth pillars: these being mining services, iron ore, lithium and energy.
Continuous Improvement Manager, Danielle Machin, says based on its performance since 1992, the company is on track meet its targets.
“We started in the industry predominantly as a service provider doing crushing plants, but we’ve since branched out into all areas of the mining industry and we’re taking on our own road haulage operations,” she says.
“We do the largest payloads on a single engine prime mover, so it allows us to work on our own decarbonisation journey and put in innovations within our own roadtrain circuit to make it safer for all parties to share the road with us, and hopefully we’ll be able to share this knowledge with the industry.”
Headlining MinRes’ plans to break the glass ceiling from here on out are the world’s first fully autonomous roadtrains, which from mid-2024 will be put into action for the fleet’s flagship Onslow Iron project in Western Australia.
The project, which is ultimately the cornerstone of MinRes’ strategy to deliver low-cost, long-life iron ore operations, will ship about 35 million tonnes of iron ore per year.
In their operations, each 110-tonne-capacity triple trailer combination will carry 330 tonnes of iron ore for around 150 kilometres on a dedicated private haul road from the Ken’s Bore mine site to the Port of Ashburton.
The ore will be transported to a 220,000-tonne enclosed, negative pressure storage facility at the port, and from there, 20,000-tonne capacity transhippers will move the ore to cape-size carriers 40 kilometres off the coast.
The entire fleet will be controlled remotely by a team of operators from a central operating centre in Onslow, but MinRes is also developing and artificial intelligence-powered monitoring system.
SAF-Holland will be crucial to the performance of the autonomous roadtrains. SAF-Holland’s AD390 suspension system, part of the OEM’s proven Neway AD Series, has been chosen exclusively to support the entire fleet.
“SAF-Holland are our preferred supplier for our trailer that we’re building,” Danielle says.
To ensure the right suspension system would be fit-for-purpose on these autonomous roadtrains, MinRes analysed SAF-Holland’s performance in the fleet with past applications. The results didn’t disappoint.
“So far in our unique operations, it’s stood up pretty well,” Danielle says. “We have the highest tonne single engine payload in the country, if not the world, and we’ve not seen any premature failures of their product to date. This has reduced downtime specifically. We’ve been able to run the assets at maximum capacity with no downtime incurred due to failure in suspension or axles.”
The implementation of autonomous trucks on their own can provide several advantages. However, combining technological expertise from Hexagon’s Autonomous Solutions with Mineral Resources’ operational knowledge, the autonomous roadtrains at MinRes will arrive with enormous benefits on a much larger scale.
“Drivers are an ageing workforce, they’re in short supply in WA as I’m sure they are in the rest of the country,” Danielle says.
“So, it’s not about taking people’s jobs, but it’s about allowing us to provide a haulage solution indefinitely without the restriction of a workforce. Young people don’t want to drive trucks anymore, it’s not something that many people are breaking the neck to get into. So, this will be about future proofing our business.”
With 120 driverless roadtrains, driver fatigue risks will be completely eliminated at MinRes, along with lowered operating costs and reduced fuel use and emissions across the board.
“We’re hoping to be able to set the way and the parameters that these trucks drive, so that we’ll be able to monitor and drive fuel efficiency,” Danielle says.
“We’ll do this with the frequency in which the truck changes gears and by being able to control the revs and other factors like that. Whereas with drivers, you’ve got many different driver styles. We’ll be able to pick what we deem is best and pretty much copy and paste that across the fleet, which will see that uniformity.”
Most notably, the units, pulled by Kenworth C509s, will give the fleet guaranteed dependability with SAF-Holland’s Neway AD390 suspension.
“The AD390s, rated for a 300-tonne-plus payload, are the ones we’re fitting them to for our off-road operations, but predominantly for our contract which is where the autonomous roadtrains will be running,” Danielle says.
“We’re using their 20-tonne axle and suspensions for our trailer that we’re also having built for this custom operation. We see their quality as being far superior than the other ones that we’ve trialled on different sites, given our unique nature and weights that we haul.”
Safety is at the forefront of the project’s design.
Grade separation on the roadtrains themselves will foremost ensure there is no interaction between the autonomous vehicles operating on the haul road and on public roads. In addition, testing has been progressing at MinRes’ Yilgarn iron ore operations since late 2021 ahead of the technology’s deployment at Onslow Iron.
The Neway AD390 suspension systems also play a major part in the field of safety.
The product to be fitted across the fleet has been specifically designed and engineered to provide trouble-free service. In the event of a minor breakdown, for example, such as a loss of air in the air springs, there are safety features integrated into the suspension that will allow the vehicle it is fitted on to be driven cautiously at slow speed, to the nearest service facility.
In dealing with SAF-Holland to prepare for the monstrous roadtrain deployment, the OEM has taken all of MinRes’ needs into account.
This, Danielle says, is why the fleet is specifying its products for hundreds of more roadtrain combinations.
“They have been very good,” she says. “We’ve had to make a few last-minute changes and they’ve been more than accommodating to help us.”
Having an OEM to rely on will be vital for MinRes’ future projects. With SAF-Holland in the picture, this will be a given.
“They have a trusted and recognised product, and they’re able to be flexible and adaptable,”Danielle says.
“Just all-round, their customer service and their willingness to adapt as we adapt, and to be able to work with us and offer suggestions for innovation by increasing our weights to record weights.
“SAF-Holland has been part of this journey with us and I’m sure that will extend and carry on into the future.”