Whittle Consulting, which specializes in integrated strategic planning for the mining industry, and Pronto, developer of an autonomous haulage system platform, recently released their joint study titled Autonomous Swarm Haulage: The Economics of Autonomous Haulage with Small Trucks. The study presents an analysis demonstrating that when mining haul trucks are automated, bigger is no longer always better.

Whittle Consulting modeled the net present value (NPV) of mining a representative copper ore body through four different scenarios, taking into account all facets of the mining value chain over an 18-year life-of-mine (LOM) horizon. Key findings included:

• The modeled mine operating with a fleet of autonomous 40-ton haul trucks would realize a 31% greater NPV than if the mine were operated with a fleet
of manually driven 100-ton off-road haul trucks. 

• Autonomy significantly improved effective utilization by reducing truck down-time, standby, and operating delays to 5% of availability versus 20% for manual vehicles.

• One theorized flaw in the small truck logic was the prospect of traffic congestion caused by the increase in the number of trucks operating in the mine, potentially overcoming the efficiency gains of small truck and automation. In the study’s simulations, such traffic congestion did not materialize.

The study also concluded that converting an existing fleet of haul trucks to autonomous operations increased NPV irrespective of truck size. Both conclusions are consistent with industry experience and past studies, according to the two companies.

Pronto said it had previously demonstrated the commercial benefits of an AHS capable of scaling down to the smallest trucks and smallest operations, and the Pronto-Whittle study substantiates that by identifying the specifics of why small trucks are favored when autonomous: lower maintenance costs, better fuel efficiency, faster haul speeds, narrower benches / steeper pit walls are possible, and better overall fleet utilization, among others.