The autonomous drills are capable of working for 11.5 hours of a 12-hour shift.

With the introduction of a second autonomous, rotary blasthole drill, the Lake Vermont mine in Queensland became the first coal mining operation to have two multipass fully autonomous rigs drilling side-by-side. Thiess has drilled more than 3,000 holes (more than 90,000 meters) since the autonomous drills have been introduced.

Thiess General Manager of Autonomous Services Matt Petty confirmed the drills continue to deliver benefits such as improved safety outcomes and increased productivity, machine and autonomous utilization.

“The expansion of our autonomous drilling fleet delivers significant productivity gains and enables us to drill more safely, accurately and consistently,” Petty said.

“We’ve leveraged our real-world experience and insight in autonomous drilling to optimize solutions for our client, backed by our proven systems and processes, and multidisciplinary engineering excellence.”

“The deployment of additional rigs, operated from our remote operating station on-site, offers significant advantages as part of our integrated system, which optimizes our autonomous drills and dozers and provides increased operability and flexibility.”

The two Epiroc Pit Viper 275 (PV-275) drills use state-of-the-art guidance technologies to assist operators’ drill holes to the exact location and depth specified by the drill plan, resulting in proven performance and reliability.

The current multipass capability enables operators to drill holes up to 59.4-m deep and 171 mm to 270 mm in diameter. Future development will enable greater depth capacity, with the Epiroc PV-275 capable of drilling holes up to 72 m deep.

Thiess Lake Vermont Operations Manager/SSE Colin Mulligan said his team is continuing to provide profitable returns for the client with the technology enabling a single operator to control both rigs simultaneously.

“We’re currently operating in auto drill plan execution (fully autonomous), which allows us to efficiently and predictably operate the rig independently of manual operations through the entire drill cycle to complete the drill plan.”

“This enables improvements in utilization with the PV-275’s capable of working for 11.5 hours of a 12-hour shift, compared with around eight and a half hours with manned operators.”

Workforce skills development continues to play a significant role in the expansion of autonomous drilling at the project, and the implementation of a staged, sustainable upskilling process has begun.

“Our approach to autonomy is to work closely with our team members and offer opportunities for upskilling,” Colin said. “Already on-site we have had a number of drill and dozer operators, communication technicians and maintenance personnel retrained to work with autonomous technologies.

“This is ensuring Thiess remains transformational and leads to higher-skilled workers and jobs.”

Thiess will continue to provide full-service mining operations at Lake Vermont coal mine, including autonomous drilling and semiautonomous dozer push, under a new five-year contract extension commencing from January 1, 2022.

As part of this offering, Thiess will welcome a third Epiroc PV-275 to the project later this year.