Barrick Gold's chief executive Mark Bristow said that for the company to achieve its goal of being the world's most valued gold company, in a rapidly evolving environment where the industry's shift to developing countries will continue, Barrick will have to be at the leading edge of automation.
He commented: "Kibali in the Democratic Republic of Congo is currently at the forefront, with its mission control system which manages the underground ore handling logistics without human intervention from the surface, but across Barrick there are many automated operations and developments which are now being unified in a group strategy."
These include underground drills that can be run from surface during shift changes; automated underground and open pit haulage trucks; fully autonomous backfill systems; remote-controlled open pit drills; and autonomous drilling of development and production blast holes by multiple units controlled by a single remote operator.
Glenn Heard, senior vice president mining at Barrick Gold, said that ongoing projects currently cover five main areas: underground development and production drilling, production and haulage, and open pit haulage and production.
Heard explained: "At present all our systems have barriers which prevent human access to the autonomous operating zones. Our next big step will be to create a situation where autonomous and manned units can work together seamlessly within the same active areas, and we're working with Sandvik and other providers to achieve this."