MELBOURNE, May 7 (Reuters) - Rio Tinto has agreed to buy a fleet of autonomous trucks and other mining equipment from Caterpillar for its new Koodaideri iron ore mine in Western Australia, it said on Tuesday.
Caterpillar will supply a fleet of 20 autonomous 793F trucks as well as four autonomous blast drills for the mine, which Rio is developing for $2.6 billion with first production expected to start by the end of 2021.
The mine is expected to underpin Rio's production of its flagship Pilbara Blend iron ore, sustaining its current output of more than 330 million tonnes a year which it draws from 16 mines in the region.
"Beyond the autonomous fleet, Caterpillar will also provide loaders, dozers, graders, water carts and diggers for the operation which will be Rio Tinto's first Pilbara mine to be primarily operated using Caterpillar machinery," Rio said.
Caterpillar's machinery will be integrated into what Rio calls its first intelligent mine, to improve productivity across Rio Tinto's entire iron ore network, it said.
Australia's iron ore miners are investing heavily in automation and machine learning in the arid Pilbara region to squeeze out costs, including removing drivers from what has been repetitive work in sometimes scorching conditions.
The road hasn't always been smooth, however, with a BHP Group train forcibly derailed after it ran away without its driver last year and a minor incident involving a driverless truck at a mine run by Fortescue in February.
Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Stephen Coates