Thiess says it has safely expanded its Cat MineStar™ Command for Dozing program at the Lake Vermont coal operation in Queensland, Australia, owned by Jellinbah Group.
A total of six Caterpillar D11 dozers fitted with Semi-autonomous Tractor System (SATS) technology have been mobilised at the project, currently making it the largest deployment of the technology globally, the contractor claims.
The SATS solution enables one operator to remotely control up to four dozers from an office environment. Lake Vermont is currently running six SATS dozers from two side-by-side remote operator stations.
Beginning the pilot in early 2020, the team has moved more than 1.9 million bank cubic metres and recorded zero autonomy-related injuries.
Thiess Autonomous Services Manager, Trent Smith, has seen significant productivity improvements with the technology enabling his team to deliver more consistent dozing.
“We’ve seen our utilisations go up about 25%,” he said. “We’re simply running 22 to 23 hours per day in autonomous mode.
“Another advantage is its ability to remove wastage within a dozer process – the machine simply won’t stop. It follows exactly the design that you’ve given it and it never waivers from that plan.”
The technology has also proven safety benefits for dozer operators by removing them from a high-risk working environment.
“Our operators control the machines from our office on-site, reducing the risk of injury from mounting and dismounting equipment and from ergonomic challenges presented during ripping applications,” Smith said.
Working collaboratively with Thiess’ in-house technical support teams has enabled the project team to solve use and skill challenges rapidly, the company said.
“The crew that started initially really struggled with the system because it was such a big change from their role and operating out in the field,” Smith said. “We spent a lot of time investing in our people with the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to try and lift their skill and knowledge of the system and we’ve seen them grow into highly capable operators.
“They started out initially running two dozers and now they are quite comfortable operating four at a time.”
Thiess partnered with Caterpillar and Hastings Deering to implement and optimise the technology at the project, with Hastings Deering Product Manager, Simon Zillman, recognising Thiess’ focus on the integration of people and process when applying advanced technology.
To take advantage of the autonomation benefits, Thiess altered a portion of its production schedule so SATS dozers could continue working in the overburden, taking advantage of the consistent and optimised operation.
“Thiess has been excellent to work with,” Zillman said. “The team is very dynamic and right across the board everyone is proactive to make it work.
“Our relationship with Thiess is collaborative at all levels, from the mechanics who are fixing the machines in the field right through to the senior management.”
The Lake Vermont operation is also using Command for Dozing to reduce unit costs through increasing dozer utilisation, increased process consistency and increased execution of best practice mining operations, Thiess said.
Thiess, Caterpillar and Hastings Deering have also collaborated on the use of autonomous drilling at Lake Vermont, with the second robotised drill mobilised to site last year.