Mining Week 09/’12: Focus back to operational challenges
March 4, 2012
Top Stories of the Week:
- Rio Tinto invests over $0.5bln on driverless trains
- Rio Tinto announced a large investment in its ‘Mine of the Future’ program to make the first of its approx. 150 trains on the Pilbara iron ore network driverless by 2014. The program will cost the company over $500mln, though it remains unclear what part of that amount is ‘research’ and what part is plain ‘hardware’.
- Sources: Rio Tinto press release; Financial Times; Sydney Morning Herald on union reaction
- Kazakhmys sees costs rise faster than revenues
- Kazakhmys, the Kazakh copper miner, posted flat profits as growth was offset by cost increase of over 20%, mainly due to skyrocketing labour costs in the country’s resource market. The company also made bullish statements about growth of the copper demand in China.
- Sources: Company overview; Financial Times; Reuters
Trends & Implications:
- Driverless trains are only one step in the larger automation effort for which Rio Tinto is the technology leader. Other areas of research are improving exploration performance and increasing recovery, especially from underground mines. A lot of the automation work focuses on the iron ore operations in Northern Australia. These operations have the scale to enable large savings by automation, and they struggle continuously with finding sufficient skilled employees at acceptable costs.
- Whether or not Rio Tinto’s role as the ‘technology leader‘ is a smart strategy is debatable: one might argue that begin a ‘smart follower‘, and thus not paying for the disappointments any large-scale research program holds, is more cost-effective. However, Rio Tinto has taken the approach that any research that can pay for itself in the long term is worth doing. Clearly the company will try to protect its findings as much as possible, but other companies will certainly start using its innovations in some way, reducing demand for skilled labor in remote positions and improving recovery potential.
©2012 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com