Autonomous drill technology has improved drilling performance and reduced fuel consumption by 8%. (Photo: Thiess)

Mining contractor Thiess recently celebrated a milestone at BHP’s Mt Arthur South mine in New South Wales, Australia. They have drilled more than 1 million meters autonomously 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 that developed and rolled out the program in a cleverly phased approach. WesTrac is the Cat dealer serving the region.

“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 approaches technology, understanding the problem statement and how technology will ultimately solve that for them, is world leading.”

WesTrac, Caterpillar and Thiess began the program in 2019 and following a multi-phase three-year journey, enabled a remotely located operator to control the three drills, a Cat MD6250 and two MD6310s, simultaneously.

Thiess Head of Autonomy and Operations Technology Trent Smith said the program’s adoption of technology closely considered its integration with people and process, with a strong focus on change management. “Achieving 1 million meters drilled autonomously is something we’re very proud of,” Smith said. “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.

“We initially needed to select reliable technology that could deliver operationally and implement it in the right application,” Smith said. “Then we addressed the change management around people and process to ensure we delivered the performance. It’s been quite exciting to see a technology product from its very infancy all the way through to an autonomous operation, and the Mt Arthur South project realizing value from it.”

“Since introducing this technology at Mt Arthur South in 2021, we have recorded a 20% improvement in drilling performance, up to 8% reduction in fuel use, more consistent drill hole quality, accuracy and depth, and drill use of up to 23 hours per day,” said Ramesh Liyanage, group executive, assets, autonomy and digital for Thiess.

Thiess upskilled more than 30 of its people at Mt Arthur South from traditional drill controllers to autonomous operators, and a range of other support functions during the million-meter journey.

Thiess said it views an opportunity to grow automation capability across trucks, drills, and dozers not just in Australia, but at regional levels across Asia and the Americas, as well as investigating rolling out future remote hub operations.

In related news, Thiess recently secured a six-year contract with BHP for the Mount Arthur South Operations in New South Wales, Australia.

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