Rise of the robot: The 'technological renaissance' automating the energy patch

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Before oil prices fell from more than US$100 per barrel three years ago, jobs driving heavy-haul mining trucks in the oilsands were sought after for their six-figure salaries.

A four-part look at how robots are changing the way we work. First up, robots aren’t killing jobs, they’re creating new ones and more of them — at least at a GE Aviation plant in Quebec.

But ever since crude’s collapse sent oilsands producers on years-long cost-cutting drives, the long-term prospects for heavy-haul operators have deteriorated. For instance, Suncor Energy Inc. is hiring such drivers for its new Fort Hills oilsands mine, but the job postings show the positions are just 12-month contracts.

One possible reason for the position’s now transitory nature is that Suncor has been piloting the use of driverless trucks in the oilsands on a fleet of six heavy haulers for two years and will decide whether to implement the autonomous system company-wide at the end of this year.

Suncor’s driverless trucks are just one way Canada’s energy industry is turning to automation and robotics to further reduce costs as West Texas Intermediate oil prices stubbornly hover around US$50 per barrel.

University of Waterloo mechatronics engineering professor William Melek said automation “is increasing, but increasing very slowly” in the energy sector. But, just as the push to lower costs through robotic and automated processes is changing Ontario’s manufacturing industry, it’s spreading to other sectors of the economy such as energy and mining.

Read the rest of the article on the Financial Post.

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