Four Ford Rangers were retrofitted with an on-board vehicle automation system to support a driverless equipment transfer service.

Fortescue Metals Group recently reported that it’s taken two steps to advance mine fleet mobility and emissions reduction, starting with the successful operational deployment of autonomous light vehicles (ALVs) at the company’s operations in the Chichester Hub, comprising the Cloudbreak and Christmas Creek mines in Western Australia’s Pilbara iron ore district. The company also said it is working with an engineering company to advance the concept of battery power for electric mining trucks.

Developed by Fortescue’s Technology and Autonomy team as a solution to improve the efficiency of the Christmas Creek mobile maintenance team, the company said ALVs remove the need for fitters to make an estimated 12,000 28-km round trips annually to collect equipment and parts.

With the assistance of Ford Australia, four Ford Ranger pickup trucks were retrofitted with an onboard vehicle automation system to support the driverless equipment transfer service, which will improve efficiency and safety by enabling team members to spend more time on maintaining assets.

The company said the system features an integrated LiDAR/Radar perception system that facilitates obstacle detection and dynamic obstacle avoidance, a comprehensive independent safety management and fail-safe braking system and extensive built-in system monitoring and fault response capability. Successful deployment of ALVs at Christmas Creek will provide the opportunity to implement a similar system at other operational sites to improve safety, productivity and efficiency, according to Fortescue.

Fortescue CEO Elizabeth Gaines said, “With the flexibility to introduce similar systems into other mobile assets, this project is fundamental to our future mobile equipment automation projects.”

  Fortescue also announced an agreement with Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE) to design, build, test and integrate a battery system to power an electric mining haul truck. The project will involve the design and construction of a bespoke battery electric power train with the ability to regenerate power as the truck travels downhill. The battery will be built at WAE’s facility in Grove, Oxfordshire, U.K., before being shipped to Perth, Australia, for integration into a 240-ton prototype haul truck for performance testing at Fortescue’s mining operations.

To support the full implementation of a battery-electric haulage fleet, the project will also involve the development of a fast charging unit that will harness renewable energy from Fortescue’s Pilbara Energy Connect network.

Gaines said: “Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the planet and Fortescue is committed to tackling this challenge head on through our industry leading target to achieve net-zero operational emissions by 2040. This includes a 26% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 emissions from existing operations from 2020 levels by 2030. With around a quarter of these emissions attributed to our mobile haul fleet, this represents a significant opportunity to drive our pathway to being diesel free.”