More than 100 trained at new WesTrac facility for AHS roles at Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri iron ore operations

WesTrac and Rio Tinto have celebrated a successful first six months of a partnership that has seen more than 100 Rio Tinto employees develop skills in cutting edge Automated Haulage Systems (AHS) training at the WesTrac Technology Training Centre in Collie. The development program commenced in March 2021 and was designed specifically to prepare Rio Tinto employees for a variety of roles at the new Gudai-Darri mine in the Pilbara.

With production at Gudai-Darri due to ramp up early next year, the mine is expected to be one of the world’s most technologically advanced, utilising automation and autonomous technology solutions throughout. The collaboration between WesTrac and Rio Tinto saw the creation of a tailored program to teach team members the safety fundamentals of operating within an autonomous mine site. It includes the use of “Stella,” pictured above and below – an autonomous Caterpillar haul truck that operates in autonomous mode interacting with manually operated equipment on the training ground.

According to WesTrac’s Technology Training Centre Operations Manager Jeremy Manuel, Gudai-Darri will be a unique working environment and that presented some training challenges for Rio Tinto. “Before engaging with the Gudai-Darri team, WesTrac had been working with customers to roll out autonomous haulage equipment at mines that were already operating, so it was possible to phase the introduction of the new technology and to train workforces on site in line with that rollout. As Gudai-Darri is a new site, WesTrac worked with Rio Tinto to develop appropriate courses and deliver them at our purpose-built Collie facility, ensuring team members leave the program site-ready.”

Scott Browne, Rio Tinto Vice President of Human Resources (left) and Jarvas Croome, WesTrac CEO (right) standing in front of “Stella”

The training includes practical components for operating and using manually controlled equipment such as passenger transport vehicles within autonomous zones. Such equipment must be fitted with technology to allow safe interaction with the autonomous vehicles, ensuring all moving equipment is site aware. WesTrac is also delivering a maintainer training module, focused on in-field service operations for autonomous equipment.

Rio Tinto expects to send employees to the facility on an ongoing basis over coming years to train both new team members and those wishing to upskill. Rio Tinto Vice President of Human Resources Scott Browne said the program has given Rio Tinto team members invaluable development in AHS. “We are pleased to collaborate with WesTrac to create this specialised development program for our team members, the first of its kind at the Collie facility,” Browne said. “The partnership has been key to ensuring our team members are equipped with many of the skills they need to commence work at Gudai-Darri. After completing the initial modules, team members will be proficient in the fundamentals of Automated Haulage Systems and will understand how to interact safely with autonomous equipment. Gudai-Darri will be one of the world’s most technically advanced mine sites with automation technology solutions across the value chain, so this training will be very important for our team on site.”

He adds: “The program creates significant opportunities for our team members to develop skills that will continue to increase in demand at mine sites across the world, including here in Western Australia. We are pleased this collaboration will support the local economy in Collie, with our team members accessing local goods and services during the time spent in the town to undertake the program.”

WesTrac CEO Jarvas Croome said Western Australia currently accounted for around 90% of the world’s Cat autonomous haulage fleet and that is why the training centre was established in the State. “Even with the travel restrictions in place since the centre opened last year, we’ve had a continuous flow of WA-based participants,” Croome said. “Mine sites across the State are continuing to enhance their operations with autonomous equipment and that is keeping demand strong. We are also seeing strong demand to work with customers such as Rio Tinto to tailor training to specific needs and anticipate developing additional course work as industry requirements continue to evolve.”