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Thiess and WesTrac dig deep on autonomous milestone

BHP Mount Arthur South coal mine.

Thiess and WesTrac have hit a one million metre autonomous drilling milestone at BHP’s Mount Arthur South coal mine in New South Wales.

Leading Caterpillar (Cat) dealer WesTrac and major mine services provider Thiess joined forces to reach the milestone, which was achieved using a fleet of three Cat MD-series drills running with the Cat MineStar Command autonomous drill system.

WesTrac technology solutions manager Nakia Brewer said the achievement not only reflects a highly successful deployment of Cat-built autonomous drills, but the strength of a technology-driven partnership.

“When implementing new technology, it is crucial that there is a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve – in this case it was to reduce operating costs and increase consistency of drilling,” he said.

“The way in which Thiess approach technology, understanding the problem statement and how technology will ultimately solve that for them, is world leading.”

Team members from Thiess, WesTrac and Caterpillar.
Team members from Thiess, WesTrac and Caterpillar. Image: WesTrac

WesTrac, Caterpillar and Thiess began the program in 2019, beginning a campaign to enable a remotely located operator to control the three drills, a Cat MD6250 and two MD6310s, simultaneously.

Since introducing the technology solution in 2021, Thiess recorded a 20 per cent improvement in drilling performance and an eight per cent reduction in fuel use.

Thiess head of autonomy and operations technology Trent Smith said the program’s adoption of technology closely considered its integration with people and process.

“Working in partnership with WesTrac and Caterpillar we took a drill that didn’t have any automation capability and went on the journey as a team to bring through what is now three drills running autonomously with a single controller,” he said.

Thiess upskilled more than 30 of its people at Mount Arthur South from traditional drill controllers to autonomous operators and has invested in autonomous mining systems training for more than 500 employees.

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