WesTrac and Thiess celebrate autonomous drilling milestone

Team members from Thiess, WesTrac and Caterpillar.
Team members from Thiess, WesTrac and Caterpillar.

WesTrac and Thiess have celebrated an autonomous drilling record at Thiess’ Mt Arthur South operation in NSW.

Last month, one million metres was autonomously drilled at the operation using a fleet of three Cat MD-series drills running with the Cat MineStar Command Autonomous Drill System (ADS).

WesTrac technology solutions manager Nakia Brewer says the achievement not only reflects the highly successful deployment of autonomous drills but the strength of partnership.

“When implementing new technology, it is crucial that there is a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve – in this case it was to reduce operating costs and increase consistency of drilling,” he said.

In 2019, WesTrac, Caterpillar and Thiess began the drilling program and following a multi-phase three-year process, enabled a remotely located operator to control the three drills – a Cat MD6250 and two MD6310s, simultaneously.

Thiess executive of assets, autonomy and digital Ramesh Liyanage commented on the technology.

“Since introducing this technology at Mt Arthur South in 2021, we have recorded a 20% improvement in drilling performance, up to 8% reduction in fuel use, more consistent drill hole quality, accuracy and depth, and drill utilisation of up to 23hrs a day,” he said.

“This milestone achieved, safely drilling more than one million metres autonomously at Thiess’ Mt Arthur South, is a testament to this spirit and we couldn’t be prouder of the team.”

Two autonomous Cat MD6250 Rotary Drills at Mt Arthur South
Two autonomous Cat MD6250 Rotary Drills at Mt Arthur South

Owned by BHP and located 5km south of Muswellbrook in NSW, Mt Arthur Coal is an open cut mine producing thermal coal.

Thiess has been supporting BHP at Mt Arthur Coal since 2017, providing load and haul services plus additional mining services including mining overburden and coal, mine design, planning, scheduling services, and drill and blast operations at the southern end of the operation.

The agreement was expanded in 2019 to include statutory responsibility as mine operator of the southern end of Mt Arthur Coal.