Suncor will incrementally roll out a fleet of autonomous haulers at its oil sands mines over the course of the next six years, starting with its North Steepbank mine, the company announced. The move makes Suncor the first North American miner to adopt autonomous hauler technology at such a large scale.

The fleet will eventually comprise a minimum of 150 Komatsu haulers, each upgraded with the proprietary Autonomous Haulage System (AHS). Suncor announced it has been field-testing the haulers and is satisfied with their performance and contribution to operating efficiency and site safety. “Safety is our No. 1 value at Suncor,” said Mark Little, chief operating officer, Suncor. “Autonomous haulage systems reduce interaction between people and equipment, which decreases incident rates and injury potential, helping us ensure everyone goes home safely at the end of every day.”

The plan is to “retire older trucks with Komatsu 930E-AT and 980E-AT trucks,” Erin Rees, Suncor spokeswoman, said. Both of these trucks feature electric drives, with the former offering a 320-short ton-payload and the latter offering a 400-short-ton-payload.

The company is currently seeking a full fleet license from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. In anticipation of the May 2019 elections, the government announced the temporary suspension of some approvals.

That could impact the pace of the rollout, Rees said. “Our communication with the provincial government related to this technology is ongoing,” Rees said. “We have the necessary approvals from the government of Alberta to proceed with implementation in the North Steepbank mine, and we’ll continue to comply with the requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Code.”

Suncor reported a total of 400 workers will be displaced. Roughly 500 jobs will be eliminated, and 100 added, the company reported. The company plans to offer retraining for displaced employees. The Suncor employee union expressed dissatisfaction with the plan.

Komatsu supported Suncor’s pilot of AHS in a section of their oil sands mine in Canada in 2013. By the end of 2017, AHS-leveraging Komatsu haulers in six mines on three continents moved a combined total of 1.5 billion tons, the company reported.

Komatsu embraces the opportunity to add to those numbers via its partnership with Suncor, Caley Clinton, Komatsu spokeswoman, said. “We’re excited to be working with Suncor on full implementation of AHS to enhance safety performance, improve operating efficiencies and lower operating costs,” Clinton said. “Our autonomous trucks provide advanced safety features including prescribed route mapping and obstacle detection systems. They also reduce the potential for injury by reducing interaction between people and equipment.”