Suncor Energy announced it will proceed with the phased implementation of Autonomous Haulage Systems (AHS) from Komatsu at its mines, starting with the North Steepbank oil sands operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Over the next six years, the company expects to deploy more than 150 autonomous haul trucks in the program.
Following thorough evaluations over the past four years, the company said it has validated that AHS technology can be used safely, effectively and efficiently in its operating environment. Evaluations have shown that the technology offers many advantages over existing truck and shovel operations, including enhanced safety performance, better operating efficiency and lower operating costs.
“Suncor was the first company to transition from bucketwheel to truck and shovel operations in the early 1990s and we’re continuing to be on the leading edge of oil sands technologies today,” said Mark Little, chief operating officer, Suncor, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “To be the very first company to test these systems and implement them at a commercial scale in our oil sands mining operations speaks to our long history of embracing and implementing game changing technologies – it’s simply part of our DNA.”
Autonomous trucks are designed to operate predictably and employ a suite of safety features like prescribed route mapping and obstacle detection systems.
The implementation of AHS is expected to change roles and required skill sets for some employees at Suncor’s operations over time, and the company said it will work with the union on strategies to minimize workforce impacts. Current plans show that the earliest the company would see a decrease in heavy equipment operators is 2019.
Taking a staged approach to deployment will allow the company to focus on each mine and apply lessons from one to the next, it said.
Suncor has been experimenting with automated equipment since 2013. Two years later the company signed an agreement with Komatsu Ltd. to provide autonomous-ready vehicles.