Driverless machines a game changer

An Australian-first production trial aiming to increase mine efficiency and worker safety and longevity will kick off in Queensland next month thanks to a partnership between Wolff Group, Hastings Deering and Caterpillar.

The Toowoomba-based Wolff Group, incorporating Wolff Mining, is the first company in Australia to showcase the very latest in semi-autonomous tractor systems technology, putting the machinery to the test in real mine conditions.

Wolff Mining Directors Wanda and Terry Wolff will be the first in the country to place three state-of-the-art semi- autonomous Cat D11T machines into a contract bulk push scenario at an open cut coal mine in Central Queensland.

“These machines will be game changers for the mining sector,” Mr Wolff said.

“The unpredictable nature of the resources sector means companies need to run more efficiently than ever before. Technology will allow for resilience, not only paving the way for increasing productivity rates and operational excellence, but playing a critical role in continuity and extending employment. It is about being smarter, safer and future-proofing business.”

Mrs Wolff said the machines would add to the footprint of the company’s workforce and provide the opportunity for workplace diversity, allowing for industry entry of people previously excluded from in-cab manual operation of dozers.

“The repetitive nature of this kind of excavation – including tasks of ripping rock – meant workers usually retired?before they were 50,” she said. “These machines will allow operatives to be up-skilled, creating a more adaptive organisation. We are excited to be involved, and as a smaller, agile company we will quickly adapt to unlock and fully leverage the potential of the technology in shaping the future of our business.”

Hastings Deering Executive General Manager Mining Mark Scott said the equipment had been tested previously in research trial conditions at Black Thunder Mine in Wyoming.

“This trial is the first of this scale in Australia and outside previous test environments,” Mr Scott said. “It is also the first production implementation of Caterpillar’s Command for Dozing semi-autonomous tractor system – the latest in technology, and part of Caterpillar’s wider MineStar suite for minesite automation of hauling and drilling.

“The semi-autonomous Cat D11T tractors will not only extend the working life of contractors in the field, but create more skilled jobs. One operator will be able to oversee the activities of multiple D11T tractors from a safe and remote location. This will allow mining in environments where there have been issues for operator safety.“

Together, Wolff Group, Hastings Deering and Caterpillar showcased the machines at a three-day industry demonstration event at Willawong in Brisbane.

The trial will run for a targeted 18 months. Significant results in efficiency are expected within six to seven months.

Mr Scott said utilising the remote dozing technology would reduce unit costs through increasing dozer operation, increased process consistency and increased execution of best-in-class practices.

“Application of advanced technologies requires not only innovative systems, but integration with people and process,” he said.

"To take advantage of the automation benefits, the Wyoming mine altered a portion of its production sequence so dozers could continue working?in the cast overburden, taking advantage of the consistent and optimised operation. Dozers operating 24/7 at the mine magnify these benefits.”

Picture: Wolff Group’s Terry and Wanda Wolff with Hastings Deering Executive General Manager Mining Mark Scott. Supplied.

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