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The Cat® MD6250 rotary drill. Source: Westrac

Thiess has collaborated with Caterpillar and WesTrac to trial autonomous drilling at the Mount Pleasant coal mine operation in New South Wales.

As part of the trial, Thiess introduced a new Caterpillar MD6250 drill rig to assist operators drill holes to the exact location and depth.

Thiess general manager for autonomous services, Matt Petty said the purpose of the pilot was to test the functionality and application of the technology while determining its viability for Thiess’ team, operations and clients.

“The outcome of the trial will help to inform how Thiess delivers automation as part of its services offering,” he said.

The Cat MD6250 rotary drill has built-in autonomous features and the option to integrate Cat MineStar technologies, which help miners control operations by tracking and monitoring assets.

Petty said the phased pilot program was progressing through three stages of drill automation: operator mission assist, semi-autonomous drilling and full autonomy and perception.

The current semi-autonomous drilling stage automates the entire drilling cycle for one row, including moving between holes from a remote operator station.

“The drill is now controlled by satellite-guided precision ensuring the blast holes are drilled exactly to the design coordinates and desired floor elevation,” Petty said.

“This stage allows our operators to select a row of holes for the drill to navigate and auto drill. Operators also help to monitor and authorise the auto-tram between holes to ensure safety is maintained.”

The Thiess team has been working closely with Caterpillar and the WesTrac on the implementation plan throughout the trial process.

In the coming months, the drill will be fitted with proximity detection and collision avoidance technology, enabling full automation.

The Mount Pleasant operation is a greenfield open cut coal mine with an estimated 474 million tonnes of reserves. Thiess is responsible for providing a full mining service and increasing its mining production to 10.5 million run of mine (ROM) tonnes per annum.