Westgold Resources & WesTrac first in world to put Cat hybrid R2900 XE to work

In a world-first, WA-based gold miner Westgold Resources and leading Caterpillar equipment provider WesTrac will put a new hybrid diesel-electric underground loader to work at the miner’s Midwest operations. Westgold’s recent purchase of the new Cat R2900 XE Underground Loader it says is focussed on achieving a range of improvements in productivity, efficiency and sustainability at the miner’s Starlight Mine in WA’s Midwest region.

The new diesel-electric hybrid powertrain combines a Cat C15 engine with a Cat switched reluctance electric drive system, which has already been applied on surface machines such as the 988K XE wheel loader.

The new Cat R2900 XE, which was handed over to Westgold at an event held at WesTrac’s WA headquarters, is the first delivery of this loader in the world. The machine will be available to the broader Australian market in early 2023. Among the promised benefits, manufacturer Caterpillar says the hybrid diesel-electric combination offers greater than 31% improvement in fuel efficiency, alongside reduced maintenance costs and greater productivity compared to earlier models.

According to Westgold Managing Director Wayne Bramwell, innovation is one of Westgold’s key drivers to enhancing mine productivity and profitability. “Westgold, as an owner-operator, has a history of implementing new technology and equipment that can deliver greater operating efficiency and reduced costs across our WA operations,” he said.

“The company has quietly piloted then commercialised innovative solutions for many years in our underground mines and acquiring the new R2900 XE continues this approach. We don’t celebrate our successes enough and have tended not to make a lot of noise about them, but we constantly challenge our people and key business partners to find ways to make the business more sustainable and more efficient.” He said that like most Australian miners, ESG was an essential and growing aspect of Westgold’s business, being important to shareholders, staff and other stakeholders.

“Our approach in this area is to look for step changes that can reduce our diesel consumption and emissions. Continually updating our extensive mobile fleet with the latest lower emission and higher efficiency equipment allows us to achieve multiple benefits at once.”

While being a first mover when it comes to implementing new technology may not be the favoured path taken by some mid-tier miners, the company says it approached being the world’s first Cat R2900 XE user as a natural progression as it builds on its fleet of 18 of the R2900 XE’s predecessor, the Cat R2900G loaders.

Westgold COO Phillip Wilding said the company had been a test bed for a number of competitors’ machines, but with the need to add another underground loader to Westgold’s fleet, efficiency, reliability and proven performance were prime decision factors. “The R2900 XE is built on the Caterpillar platform, and the Cat R2900G is a proven performer,” Wilding said.

“Our Bryah and Murchison operations are several hundred kilometres from a service centre, so we need equipment that we know is robust and reliable, and Caterpillar ticks those boxes.”

As well as the reported fuel efficiency gains, the Cat R2900 XE delivers greater than 35% improvement in breakout force, an increased total payload of 18.5 t and more than 50% acceleration improvement in the 0-20 km/h range compared to the Cat R2900G.

Caterpillar Product Application Specialist Gordon Wilkin said the Cat R2900 XE was the result of ongoing requirements from customers and industry for cleaner but more productive equipment that reduced total cost of ownership. “When it comes to improving equipment sustainability, and particularly in underground mining applications, Caterpillar has to consider reducing machine emissions including exhaust, heat and noise, while ensuring improvements in safety and productivity,” Wilkin said.

“We’re also always innovating to offer more towards reduction in operator fatigue, reducing maintenance requirements and automating functions to reduce total cost of ownership. Caterpillar is continuing to develop and extend the range of electric drive equipment as a way to address a lot of those requirements.”

WesTrac Executive General Manager of Sales Geoff Bailey said it was exciting to see the world-first collaboration taking place in WA. “We often see these kinds of first-use milestones occurring in North America and with tier-one miners. The fact we are rolling out the world’s first Cat R2900 XE to go into production with Westgold, which is a mid-tier WA gold miner, highlights a number of things. Firstly, the WA mining sector is the most innovative in the world and will readily adopt new technologies if there’s sustainability and productivity gains to be realised. And secondly, that innovation and first production use isn’t just the domain of the larger operators. As a mid-sized owner-operator, Westgold has multiple operations that will certainly see the Cat R2900 XE being put through its paces.”

Bramwell and Wilding agree, saying the machine will be thoroughly tested in both stoping and caving applications. “Westgold’s miners are eagerly awaiting this machine and ready to put it to work,” Bramwell said. The Cat R2900 XE Underground Loader is headed initially to Westgold’s Fortnum Gold Operation, 150 km north-west of Meekatharra, for use at the Starlight underground mine.