National Group leads the way into an autonomous future

Wolff is known for its automation expertise.

The mining equipment specialist is making moves in the industry with the acquisition of automation-focused Wolff Mining.

National Group has continued to experience exponential growth in the mining industry and has historically taken an organic approach to its growth agenda.

But with the recent acquisition of Wolff Mining, which is well-known in the industry for autonomous operations such as dozer push, National Group is set to enter the rapid growing innovative technology market as a front runner.

National Group’s acquisition of Wolff Mining will provide a mutually beneficial boost to both companies that will keep them ahead of the game when it comes to mining’s ever-expanding automation push.

Wolff Mining, a Queensland-based company owned by husband-and-wife team Terry and Wanda Wolff, had already received considerable industry attention for its technology before the National Group entered the scene.

Terry Wolff says the two companies share a lot of values that make the decision a natural choice for Wolff Mining.

“National Group met all of our foundations and culturally aligned with the way we already do business here at Wolff, so that made this decision a lot easier for us,” Wolff says. “We couldn’t think of a better company to pass on the baton to.

“The acquisition brings together two businesses with excellent reputations in the mining industry. National Group values our people, autonomous expertise and our ability to operate in the segments where we have a depth of knowledge and experience.”

Wolff Mining is known for implementing Caterpillar’s Command for Dozing technology at a pilot trial using three semi-autonomous Cat D11T Dozers at Coronado Coal’s Curragh coal mine in Central Queensland. This pilot resulted in improved dozing hours, safety and increased efficiency through reduced dozing costs per bank cubic metre at the operation.

“Once we looked into the company, we identified market opportunities and cultural similarities,” National Group managing director Mark Ackroyd tells Australian Mining.

“Their story is similar to that of the National Group, in that they are a small, private company that has grown substantially over the years. They possess a very similar organisational culture to us in the sense that they are a family business with good values and work ethic.”

“Adding Wolff Mining to the National Group will allow us to deliver additional services in the autonomous operations space that complements our current service offering, so it was a logical choice for us.”

“With our range of autonomous dozers, everything including the speed, direction and blade position can be fully controlled using Wolff’s technology by remote operators on site,” National Group chief operating officer Julian Cook continues.

“Currently, operators control the dozers during a dozer push at another location on site.

“Going forward, we plan to take this technology even further to the point where operators will control equipment off site.”

Wolff’s dozer push has made a strong impression at the Curragh coal mine.

 

National Group’s expertise will be employed to support Wolff’s ongoing fleet expansion – its current semi-autonomous fleet stands at seven machines – while Wolff will in turn open up a previously unexplored market sector for National Group.

Ackroyd suggests the company has plans to expand on its semi-autonomous fleet using its own dozers across Australia in order to cultivate the two groups’ shared interests.

Wolff Mining offers a variety of dozer push, excavation and rehabilitation services in Queensland and New South Wales.

Its semi-autonomous dozing services provide a quick and cost-effective alternative to excavators, creating an effective pairing with dragline, truck and shovel operations.

“Wolff’s technology can allow the dozers to operate with absolute precision. This is a particularly effective method for open cut earthmoving operations, including tailings. It’s moving to more technologically-driven and efficient methods for moving material from point A to point B,” says Cook.

“It’s fair to say that most, if not all, open cut mining operations require some form of rehabilitation, pre-stripping and ground disruption, so anything that helps you do that more quickly and safely has to be a good thing.”

This safety application also extends to areas where it’s not safe to send people, such as areas of high temperature (including fires), high levels of gas or under swinging draglines, for example.

The dozers were used at a site near Moranbah in late 2018 just for this purpose, performing push operations in the mine’s exclusion zone via remote control operation to help extinguish a fire.

“We believe that we’re in a good position to capitalise on that and deliver what the market needs and will indeed want over the years to come, especially around personal safety,” adds Ackroyd.

“I think there is a growing spotlight on personal protection and safety within the mining industry and that is only going to continue as things move forward.

“The opportunity for National Group going forward can’t be underestimated as the industry, like Wolff, continues to evolve with automation technology. This trend began with Tier 1 miners around a decade ago with the rise of the autonomous haul truck.

“It’s a big focus of ours going forward to position ourselves in a market that is increasing its push with technology and innovation.”

This article also appears in the June edition of Australian Mining. 

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