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Mining giant rolls out driverless machinery

CAT D11 teleremote dozer
CAT D11 teleremote dozer

A multinational resources company is deploying a new earthmoving equipment fleet that requires no operator in the cabin.

Rio Tinto confirmed WesTrac and Caterpillar recently supplied a new tele-remote dozing system at its Cape Lambert operation in Karratha.

The successful bidders fitted CAT D11 dozers with MineStar command for dozing technology, four cameras and wireless internet connection. Machines can be fully controlled from the comfort of a remote operator centre that resembles a simulator fitted with in-cab controls.

An over-the-shoulder console lets operators work within visual range during temporary or one-off movements. This is promised to put safety first through “removing operators from high-risk environments”.

“The brief was to take the operator out of the line of fire, in particular to reduce the risks associated with slipping or stability issues. For example, when they were working on stockpiles or close to steep walls,” Rio superintendent process and technical Michelle Woolcock said in a public statement.

The employer recognised not every operator initially welcomed moving out of cabins to the control centre. However, this kind of “resistance” was “quickly overcome”.

“Putting the operators into a station away from the danger zones eliminates any potential risk of harm, no matter how small that risk might be,” Rio superintendent operational readiness Jamie Webster said.

“Dozers are working at the top of a large stockpile and if a dozer slips it could go down a bank or, if it is working while the apron feeder is operating, the ground could fall away from underneath it.”

Webster claims affected employees have already been retrained to perform different tasks.

“As much as ‘non-line-of-site’ operation sounds like it could be carried out from anywhere, the reality is that these operators are multi-tasking in their roles,” she said.

“It will depend on the state of the coarse ore stockpile and what is coming in and going out. They need to be able to visually inspect and determine what needs to be done. They might spend an hour or two dozing then move on to other tasks while they wait for the stockpiles to be replenished.”

This technology is expected to be rolled out to more Rio mine sites. The Koodaideri mine, for example, is billed to be one of the world’s most technologically advanced sites with a large fleet of autonomous haul trucks, water carts and drill rigs.

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AMSJ April 2022