National

Rio Tinto expands automatic Pilbara fleet

By AAP Newswire

Rio Tinto will increase the number of unmanned autonomous haul trucks it uses in the Pilbara by more than 50 per cent as part of a $5 billion productivity drive.

Manufacturers Komatsu and Caterpillar will retrofit 48 giant trucks to allow unmanned operation, taking the total number operated by Rio in the region to more than 130 by 2019.

Currently, 20 per cent of Rio's fleet of 400 or so haul trucks in the Pilbara are automated.

Rio said the driverless trucks are safer, and cut the number of workers exposed to hazardous or critical risk situations.

It said the retrofit was central to improving productivity of its iron ore business by $500 million per year from 2021 - part of a strategy to unlock $5 billion of free cash flow by 2021.

Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said the company was already looking at further augmenting its Pilbara fleet.

"The expansion of our autonomous fleet via retrofitting helps to improve safety, (and) unlocks significant productivity gains," Mr Salisbury said on Monday.

According to the resources giant, each of its automated trucks last year operated an extra 1,000 hours and cost 15 per cent less to run than a conventional truck.

Rio has not said how many jobs will be affected by the transition.

"Rio Tinto is committed to working closely with our workforce ... including providing opportunities for new roles, redeployment, retraining and upskilling," Mr Salisbury said.

At 1438 AEDT, Rio Tinto shares were 69 cents, or 1 per cent higher at $71.26.