An image of two autonomous drills at Mt Arthur South mine site.

Thiess has announced that it has autonomously drilled one million metres at its Mt Arthur South operation in New South Wales.

Celebrated by leading Cat® dealer WesTrac and Thiess, the milestone was reached in April 2024 using a fleet of three Cat MD-series drills running with the Cat MineStar™ Command Autonomous Drill System (ADS).

WesTrac’s Technology Solutions Manager, Nakia Brewer, said that the achievement reflects the strength of a technology-driven partnership that developed and rolled out the program in a cleverly phased approach.

“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.”

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 one million metres drilled autonomously is something we’re very proud of.

“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.

“We initially needed to select reliable technology that could deliver operationally and implement it in the right application. 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 realising value from it.”

Thiess’ Group Executive, Assets, Autonomy and Digital, Ramesh Liyanage, said, “Since introducing this technology at Mt Arthur South in 2021, we have recorded a 20 per cent improvement in drilling performance, up to eight per cent reduction in fuel use, more consistent drill hole quality, accuracy and depth and drill utilisation of up to 23 hours per day.”

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

WesTrac’s New South Wales Mining Business Manager, Craig Morris, said that demand for autonomous drilling solutions is on the rise.

“A significant amount of effort went in at the start between all parties, in terms of being engaged and onboard. It was a rigorous change management process and numerous learnings came from that, which is what made it successful.

“For WesTrac, it was fantastic to have a partner that wanted to prove out the concepts of the autonomous drill and ensure it resulted in a positive outcome.”

Featured image:  Two autonomous drills at Mt Arthur South mine site. Image credit: WesTrac.

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