Laser-guided trucks to beat driver shortages


Remote trucks and forklifts are the answer to resolving driver shortages in the transport industry, according to Ferrier Hodgson

November 28, 2011

Remote trucks and forklifts are the answer to resolving driver shortages in the transport industry, according to corporate advisory insolvency firm Ferrier Hodgson.

Laser-guided driverless vehicles are starting to appear on mining sites, which are programmed and controlled by an operator at a computer.

Rio Tinto’s recent decision to buy 150 driverless Komatsu trucks is a sign of different things to come, a partner at Ferrier-Hodgson, Brendan Richards, says.

"They are expanding on a trial of five trucks which has been operating since 2008 at its West Angelas iron ore mine in the East Pilbara region," he says.

"Fortescue Metals is also looking to have a dozen Caterpillar autonomous trucks in operation by the end of the year, with another 33 to follow."

Rio Tinto plans to have up to 40 percent of its fleet driverless by 2015 and controlled by a state-of-the-art operations centre in Perth, Richards adds.

"Whilst this represents a massive investment, costing about 30 percent more than conventional vehicles, in the context of an industry-wide labour shortage, transport operators have to increasingly think outside the box," he says.

"This technology has enormous potential to boost productivity and reduce costs for operators in the resources sector. In the meantime, it is giving the rest of the trucking industry a peek at what the future may hold."

The average age of a truck driver in Australia is 50 years and the demand from the resources sector has seen truck drivers being offered a salary of $150,000 to $200,000.

"The resources sector can recruit overseas drivers under the subclass 457 visa regime but mainstream trucking operators are no longer able to do so, exacerbating the shortage by restricting sources of labour," Richards says.

"With wafer-thin margins in many trucking operations, escalation of labour costs without productivity improvements poses a very real threat."




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