The drivers’ seats may be empty, but that won’t stop these dozers pushing dirt.
Toowoomba-based Wolff Group is putting the latest semi-autonomous tractor system technology to the test in real mine conditions, with three Cat D11T machines going to work at an open-cut coal mine in central Queensland from July.
The Australian-first production trial is being conducted in partnership with Hastings Deering and Caterpillar.
“These machines will be game-changers for the mining sector,“ Wolff Mining director Terry 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 will also play a critical role in continuity and extending employment. It is about being smarter, safer and future proofing business.”
The technology allows one operator to oversee the activities of multiple D11T tractors from a safe and remote location.
Co-director Wanda Wolff said the machines would allow people previously excluded from in-cab, manual operation of dozers to enter the industry.
“The repetitive nature of this kind of excavations, including tasks of ripping rock, means workers usually retired before they were 50,” she said.
“These machines will allow operators to be upskilled, creating a more adaptive organisation. We are excited to be involved; 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.”
Wolff Group, Hastings Deering and Caterpillar showcased the machines at a three day Industry Demonstration Event at Willawong in Brisbane.
Hastings Deering Executive General Manager – Mining Mark Scott said the equipment had been tested in research trial conditions at Black Thunder Mine in Wyoming, USA.
“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 very latest in technology and part of Caterpillar’s wider MineStar suite of technology for mine site automation of hauling and drilling.”
Mr Scott said utilising the remote dozing technology would reduce unit costs through increasing dozer operation, increased process consistency (consistent process management) and increased execution of best in class practices.
The mine-site trial is expected to run for 18 months.