Design highlights of the new R2900 XE include a high-efficiency Switched Reluctance (SR) electric drive system and redesigned axles, wheel and brake groups.

Gold miner Westgold Resources is putting a new Cat diesel-electric underground loader to work at its Western Australia operation, marking a milestone in the company’s program to improve productivity, efficiency and sustainability at its Starlight mine. Cat dealer WesTrac said a new Cat R2900 XE, which it handed over to Westgold in November, is the first delivery of this loader in the world. The dealer said the new model will be available to the broader Australian market in early 2023.

Introduced in 2021, the R2900 XE’s SR electric drive system replaces a mechanical transmission in the R2900G, featuring variable speed control and virtual gears for machine controllability. Its programmable speed management improves operator efficiency, said Cat, and reduces fatigue while automatic retarding controls help to maintain speed on grade. Steering and transmission integrated control (STIC) is achieved with a single lever that combines directional selection, virtual gears and steering.

WesTrac said the diesel-electric combination offers 31% or more improvement in fuel efficiency, alongside reduced maintenance costs and greater productivity compared to earlier models.  The diesel-electric design enables the engine to operate at a lower rpm level to reduce fuel burn, heat generation and exhaust emissions, while increasing power. Mines have the option of equipping the loader with a high-efficiency radiator.

Westgold Managing Director Wayne Bramwell said “Westgold, as an owner-operator, has a history of implementing new technology and equipment that can deliver greater operating efficiency and reduced costs across our WA operations. The company has quietly piloted then commercialized innovative solutions for many years in our underground mines and acquiring the new R2900 XE continues this approach.

“Our approach in this area is to look for step changes that can reduce our diesel consumption and emissions,” he said. “Continually updating our mobile fleet with the latest lower emission and higher efficiency equipment allows us to achieve multiple benefits at once.”

The R2900 XE will join the miner’s fleet of 18 Cat R2900G loaders, the R2900 XE’s predecessor. COO Phillip Wilding said the company had been a test bed for a number of competing machines. Reliability and proven performance were prime decision factors. “Our Bryah and Murchison operations are several hundred kilometers from a service center. The R2900 XE is built on the Caterpillar platform, and the Cat R2900G is a proven performer.”

In addition to the reported fuel efficiency gains, WesTrac said the R2900 XE delivers 35%-plus improvement in breakout force, higher total payload of 18.5 metric tons and more than 50% acceleration improvement in the 0-20 km/h range compared with the R2900G.

Westgold executives said the machine will be tested in stoping and caving applications.