Thiess trials autonomous drilling at Mount Pleasant

Major Australian mining services provider Thiess, part of CIMIC, is trialing a Caterpillar MD6250 drill rig with autonomous drilling capability at MACH Energy's Mount Pleasant coal mine in New South Wales.
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Drilling Work at MACH Energy's Mount Pleasant coal mine

Staff reporter

The phased 12-month pilot project will test the product's guidance technologies aimed at assisting operators in drilling holes to the exact location and depth specified by the drill plan, resulting in safer and more efficient blasting.

Thiess general manager autonomous services Matt Petty said the purpose of the pilot was to test the functionality and application of the technology while determining its viability for Thiess' team, operations and clients.

The phased pilot program is progressing through three stages of drill automation - operator mission assist, semi-autonomous drilling and full autonomy and perception.

The current stage, semi-autonomous drilling, automates the entire drilling cycle for one row, including moving between holes, from a remote operator station.

"The drill is now controlled by satellite-guided precision ensuring the blast holes are drilled exactly to the design coordinates and desired floor elevation," Petty said.

In the coming months, the drill will be fitted with proximity detection and collision avoidance technology, enabling full automation.

Mount Pleasant drill operator Zac Brasington said the remote station replicated the seat and controls of the machine's cab, "allowing us, as operators, to control the machine with minimal decrease in functionality or productivity".

"It's also helping drive consistency at our operation with improved accuracy in hole placement, trajectory and depth."