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BMA to spend US$70M on Daunia auto-trucks

BHP Mitsubishi Alliance is spending A$100 million (US$70 million) to introduce 34 autonomous trucks at its Daunia mine in central Queensland, Australia
BMA to spend US$70M on Daunia auto-trucks BMA to spend US$70M on Daunia auto-trucks BMA to spend US$70M on Daunia auto-trucks BMA to spend US$70M on Daunia auto-trucks BMA to spend US$70M on Daunia auto-trucks

BMA says automation at its Daunia coal mine in Queensland, Australia, takes workers out of harm’s way and enables the mine to deliver more top-quality coal

Lou Caruana

To help prepare for Daunia's autonomous future, it is estimated more than 30,000 hours of training will be delivered, ranging from general awareness to extensive training for those operating equipment, interacting with the autonomous haul trucks, or taking on new roles.

The first Caterpillar autonomous trucks will begin from February next year, with the rollout expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

However, some say the introduction of the autonomous trucks will threaten the mine's social licence to operate.

BMA asset president James Palmer said this was a multigenerational investment in the coal industry at a time when it was needed.

"We acknowledge the important role our business and industry can play in supporting Queensland communities and the local economy during this time," he said.

"This announcement is a vote of confidence in Central Queensland. At least 10 regional and Indigenous businesses will be employed to support the rollout, with contracts worth $35 million."

This will result in 150 additional project roles for BMA people and contractors on top of 56 new permanent roles on site.

"There will be no job losses as a result of this decision and anyone who currently works with us, be it an employee or labour hire worker, will be given the opportunity to continue to do so," Palmer said.

Hastings Deering's Central Queensland operations will require an additional 30 people to assist with truck and ancillary fleet conversion.

Hastings Deering CEO Dean Mehmet said the contract was a huge boost to the company's local business and the region.

"It's exciting work to build on that allows us to grow and develop local talent to deliver technology solutions into the resources sector," he said.

Other examples of local businesses that will directly benefit from this decision include NB Industries, which  will complete the light vehicle fleet conversion, and Radlink Communications, which will install wireless communication hardware across the mine.

Palmer said employee engagement and training was central to the decision.

"We have engaged with our workforce at Daunia over the previous 18 months on the possible rollout of autonomous haulage," he said.

"Our people have told us that they are eager for new job opportunities and skills. That is why we are confident this is the right decision for Daunia.

"It will further increase safety and performance and help the mine remain competitive over the long-term.

"We understand this decision represents some change. However, it also offers a unique opportunity for people to gain new, highly valued skills that will create additional opportunities for growth into the future."

Minerals Council of Australia CEO Tania Constable said the BMA announcement was an example of the Australian minerals industry again leading the world in technology adoption to improve performance, efficiency, safety and the environment.

"There will also be no job losses - another demonstration that technology and innovation are already transforming the Australian minerals industry for the better," she said.

"The MCA has long promoted the benefits of technology and innovation for Australian mining and its highly skilled, highly paid workforce.

"Australia's minerals industry is proud to lead the world in people, innovation and technology."

Constable said BMA's announcement built on other industry innovation initiatives such as the successful introduction of Rio Tinto's Autohaul driverless train in the Pilbara, the world's largest robot, and the widespread adoption of autonomous drills, drones and advanced sensors.

"BMA in partnership with TAFE Queensland and CQUniversity is also developing autonomous qualifications for the resources sector through its Queensland Future Skills partnership," she said.

"Automation takes workers out of harm's way, enables mines to deliver more of Australia's top-quality minerals to customers more quickly through more efficient operation and has the potential to reduce emissions by optimising fleet and machinery performance."

Queensland Resources Council CEO Ian Macfarlane said the Queensland coal industry was an early adopter of technology and a world leader in creating the long-term jobs of the future through automation.

 "What we are seeing from the resources sector, such as BMA today, is companies building high-tech capacity into their operations to improve safety and efficiency," he said.

"Technology is a multiplier of jobs and through this investment up to 10 regional businesses including Indigenous businesses would share in $35 million worth of contracts, creating 150 project jobs on top of the 56 new permanent jobs on site.

"In addition Hastings Deering would see an additional 30 regional jobs to work on fitting and converting the trucks.

"Queensland's resources industry will continue to invest in technology to ensure it maintains leading practices in safety and innovation which will secure the sector's competitiveness over other mining jurisdictions around the world."

However, not everybody is happy with the autonomous trucks coming to Daunia.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has hit out at the plan, saying it will threaten the company's social licence.

CFMEU Queensland president Stephen Smyth said the introduction of driverless trucks at Daunia would impact jobs and the way work was performed and accused BHP of being "arrogant" by springing the announcement on the workforce without warning.

"BHP is simply barging ahead with automation without taking into consideration the views and concerns of those workers whose livelihood is affected," he said.

"They are only consulting once their plans are already in place, when the horse has already bolted."

Smyth said the union would hold BHP to its statement that no permanent or labour hire jobs would be lost due to the autonomous fleet's introduction.

"However, we expect they'll find other excuses to cut jobs," he said.

"BHP faces the risk that if they are just creating dust and traffic without generating good employment opportunities for Queenslanders, they will lose their social licence to operate."