Rio Tinto has brought in outsourcing firm iGATE Patni to open an innovation centre in Pune, India to support its Mine of the Future programme.

The news comes as the company separately signed a five-year network and security contract with Orange, for WAN services including satellite access and network management, secure internet gateways and traffic optimisation to over 280 of its sites across the world.

Under the iGATE Patni deal, over the next five years the company will provide Rio Tinto with engineering research and development services, including industrial automation and control, software and embedded design and development, and general engineering services.

The Rio Tinto Innovation Centre (RTIC) will build on the work of Rio Tinto's established centres of excellence in Australia, Canada and the UK.

John McGagh, Rio Tinto head of innovation, said: "This partnership will enable us to move our innovations from concept stage to reality more efficiently through the work of a dedicated team of specialised engineers."

He said the RTIC will allow the firm to take a specific technology developed at one of its centres of excellence - such as the mine automation system currently in use at its Pilbara iron ore operations in Western Australia - and adapt it for broader application across the company's network of mines.

The RTIC will employ 300, mainly skilled engineers focussing on image processing, advanced data mining and analytics, automation and control systems, design and logistics.

Photo: Tim Jarrett