Rio Tinto using virtual reality glasses to get experts to the front line

Mining giant Rio Tinto has been putting experts on the ground at one of its sites by using virtual reality headsets during the coronavirus pandemic, as the disease cut into production.

Staying far away from the company’s copper mines in Mongolia and the US, experts have been able to weigh in remotely.

It has allowed them to get past travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, Rio said.

“At our Oyu Tolgoi underground project in Mongolia, the use of virtual reality glasses has helped gain access to global experts to support project progression during construction and commissioning stages,” the company said in an update to investors on Friday morning.

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The business reported a 3% drop in the amount of copper it managed to dig out of the ground in the second quarter of the financial year.

Meanwhile, restrictions in Quebec and South Africa have meant that titanium dioxide slag production dropped 13% compared with the same period a year earlier.

Rio said Chinese customers are still demanding large amounts of iron ore, but it warned that recovery in Japan and Europe “is yet to begin meaningfully and is likely to be subdued when it does”.

Chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said: “We delivered a strong performance, particularly in iron ore and bauxite, demonstrating the underlying resilience of our business and ability to adapt in difficult conditions.

“Our iron ore assets are performing well in a strong pricing environment and we are on track to meet our 2020 iron ore guidance.

“Despite various Covid-19-related challenges, all our assets have continued to operate, with our first priority to protect the health and safety of all our employees and communities.

Rio Tinto results
Rio Tinto results

“Our focus is to maintain a business-as-usual approach with many safeguards at a very unusual time.

“Our operational teams are continuing to run our assets safely so we can continue to contribute to local and national economies and serve our customers.”

The news comes amid a controversy surrounding the destruction by Rio’s miners of a 46,000-year-old indigenous cultural site at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia.

Addressing the issue, Mr Jacques said: “We remain even more committed to our relationship with communities, following the Juukan Gorge events in the Pilbara, and we are engaging extensively with traditional owners around our operations and across Australia.”