Contractor Wolff Mining recognised for automation excellence

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Wolff Mining has received the Contract Miner of the Year Award for its innovative work at the Curragh mine in Queensland. Australian Mining talks to Leon Williamson about where the company is heading next.

Wolff Mining set a target this year to drive up production rates and improve operational safety at Coronado’s Curragh open cut coal mine in Queensland.

It succeeded by introducing Caterpillar’s Command for Dozing in a world-first production pilot trial which was a collaboration between Caterpillar, Queensland-based Cat supplier Hastings Deering and Coronado Curragh.

This collaboration focused on the implementation of three Cat D11T dozers with Caterpillars Command for Dozing module into a production environment, which has enabled Wolff to succeed in increasing the dozing hours per shift and correspondingly, through placing the operators in a centralised control room, improve the safety of operators.

It was primarily for this work that the mid-tier company was recognised at this year’s Australian Mining Prospect Awards as the Epiroc Contract Miner of the Year.

Wolff’s overall aim with Command for Dozing was to improve dozing hours per shift while decreasing the cost of dozing per bank cubic metre (BCM).

So far, the project has seen an overall 15 per cent improvement to dozing hours, while also improving operational safety considerably since the drivers don’t have to sit in the cab.

“Autonomy is about removing people from the workplace to increase safety and increasing the number of operating hours that you get per shift,” says Wolff project development manager Leon Williamson.

“And that generally translates through to high productivity because you’re moving more tonnes or drilling more metres in a given hour.

“We were looking for a low-cost, mobile alternative that could be transported around different sites or locations within a mine. Because it’s wireless, [Command for Dozing] can be transported quite easily to different pits within the one client. It’s less capital intensive as it doesn’t require permanent high cost infrastructure.”

Founded in 2003, Wolff specialises in dozer push, pre-strip top soil removal, mine rehabilitation, blast hole drilling services and low-voltage/high-voltage (LV/HV) electrical works.

Its contracts for these areas have included BMA’s Blackwater mine, Yancoal’s Yarrabee mine and Peabody’s Moorvale and Coppabella mines.

Coronado Curragh is one of the company’s longest running dozer push contracts, dating back to 2008 when the site was run by previous owner Wesfarmers.

Command for Dozing has moved into the production phase and Wolff hopes that it can eventually bring the technology to other soft and hard rock mine sites across the country.

The company has embarked on manned dozer push trials in Western Australia’s Goldfields region and is also keen on a potential expansion into the iron ore sector, too.

“We want to step out and have a number of locations throughout Australia where we can deploy these dozers across similar operations,” explains Williamson.

“It’s about trying to get some connectivity with players in the west and looking outside the coal sector.”

Wolff cites its status as a mid-tier company —employing around 170 people across operations and management — as an advantage, as it allows the company to implement client changes quickly and effectively.

This ties into a wider company philosophy of nimbleness espoused by the company’s directors and original founders, Terry and Wanda Wolff.

“We’re not a big, bureaucratic organisation,” says Williamson. “It’s a small, nimble company that can make decisions quite quickly and generally get some traction and engagement with clients [in a short timeframe].”

“To be totally honest, we thought we were a bit of a long shot so from a business point of view it was a fantastic recognition of all the work we’ve done as a team, and in particular, the work we’re doing that in the automation space.”

The next step for the company is to scale up its operations and eventually combine the dozing and drilling functions into a semi-autonomous application from a central control room.

By pushing forward the accessibility of automation technology as a mid-tier contractor servicing small- and mid-cap mining operations, Wolff can tacitly endorse mining’s growing status as a METS career for the operators of the future.

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