Iron ore miner Fortescue Metals has opened a new world-class automated maintenance and repair facility for its haulage cars in Western Australia.

Fortescue has availed itself of some of the world’s most advanced engineering and automation technology to create the facility, which will be responsible for the maintenance of approximately 24,000 wheel sets installed on over 3,000 haulage cars used in its iron ore operations.

The cutting-edge facility is capable of performing work on eight rail cars simultaneously, with robotic systems used to re-profile and install new wheels and axles at a set of different work stations.

A production control system greatly enhances the efficiency of selection and installation by digitally recording all of the maintenance information for wheel sets, bearings and axles, thus reducing the time required to pick wheels from storage for installation on ore cars.

Fortescue representatives claim the facility is the most advanced of its kind in existence, and that the design phase saw researchers from the company visit similar workshops around the world glean the latest processes and technology.

The automated facility is situated at Thomas Yard, off the Great Northern Highway towards Karratha, within the service hub which caters to Fortescue’s rail operations.

Both the workshop’s location and advanced automated technologies will obviate the need for Fortescue to send the wheel sets all the way to Perth, where maintenance was previously outsourced to specialist engineering firms.

The opening of the automated facility come just as Fortescue moves forward with plans for the introduction of Caterpillar autonomous trucks to its Solomon iron ore mine in Western Australia’s Pilbara.

Fortescue executed an agreement with Caterpillar  in July of last year for the introduction of MineStar automation technology to the project, which will eventually boast a fleet of up to 45 autonomous trucks in operation within the next several years.

The world’s leading mining companies are increasingly turning to automation to raise the efficiency and economy of their operations, with a report recently released by Australia’s Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics expecting such technologies to significantly the competitiveness of a number of iron ore mines in the Pilbara.