Thiess mobilises second autonomous drill at Lake Vermont

Thiess is continuing to strengthen its autonomy capability, with the second drill fitted with an Autonomous Drilling System (ADS) now in operation at its Lake Vermont project, which is owned by Jellinbah Group. The introduction of a second drill on site will see Lake Vermont become the first coal mining operation to have two multi-pass fully autonomous rigs drilling side-by-side.

Since the introduction of autonomous drills at the project, Thiess has drilled over 3,000 holes equating over 90,000 metres.

Thiess General Manager Autonomous Services Matt Petty confirmed the drills continue to deliver benefits such as improved safety outcomes and increased productivity, machine and autonomous utilisation. “The expansion of our autonomous drilling fleet delivers significant productivity gains and enables us to drill more safely, accurately and consistently,” he said.

“We’ve leveraged our real-world experience and insight in autonomous drilling to optimise solutions for our client, backed by our proven systems and processes and multi-disciplinary engineering excellence. The deployment of additional rigs, operated from our remote operating station on-site, offers significant advantages as part of our integrated system, which optimises our autonomous drills and dozers and provides increased operability and flexibility.”

The two Epiroc Pit Viper 275 (PV-275) drills use state of the art guidance technologies to assist operators drill holes to the exact location and depth specified by the drill plan, resulting in proven performance and reliability. The current multi-pass capability enables operators to drill holes up to 59.4 m deep and 171 mm to 270 mm in diameter. Future development will enable greater depth capacity, with the Epiroc PV-275 capable of drilling holes up to 72 m deep.

Thiess Lake Vermont Operations Manager/SSE Colin Mulligan said his team is continuing to provide profitable returns for the client with the technology enabling a single operator to control both rigs simultaneously. “We’re currently operating in auto drill plan execution (fully autonomous) which allows us to efficiently and predictably operate the rig independently of manual operations through the entire drill cycle to complete the drill plan.”

“This enables improvements in utilisation with the PV-275’s capable of working for 11.5 hours of a 12-hour shift, compared with around eight and a half hours with manned operators.”

Building a deeper capability 

Workforce skills development continues to play a significant role in the expansion of autonomous drilling at the project, and the implementation of a staged, sustainable upskilling process has begun.

“Our approach to autonomy is to work closely with our team members and offer opportunities for upskilling. Already on-site we have had a number of drill and dozer operators, communication technicians and maintenance personnel re-trained to work with autonomous technologies,” Mulligan said. “This is ensuring Thiess remains transformational and leads to higher-skilled workers and jobs.”

Thiess will continue to provide full-service mining operations at Lake Vermont Coal Mine, including autonomous drilling and semi-autonomous dozer push, under a new five year contract extension commencing from 1 January 2022. As part of this offering Thiess will welcome a third Epiroc PV-275 to the project later this year.