Managing automated underground mining fleets from the surface

Case Study

Overview

Westgold Resources is a leading gold mining company with operations in the Murchison and Goldfields regions of Western Australia. It has three mining centres in the Central Murchison Province with the three associated mills generating more than 4 million tonnes per annum production capacity. After years of hard work, Westgold Resources and its underground mining services division Minterra restarted its mining operations at the long-life Big Bell underground mine. The company focused its efforts to build the mine up to full production and expects Big Bell’s production profile to move from circa 250,000 ozpa to a long life 300,000 ozpa average in the coming years.

Previously, Westgold Resources was utilising third party entry-level automation packages across its underground loader fleet which wasn’t optimal to the productivity of their fleet operations. RCT was approached by Westgold Resources to support the expansion of production activities due to its strong reputation of improving the productivity of mining operations through the implementation of market-leading automation technology.

Solution

Westgold Resources selected RCT to roll out its proven interoperable ControlMaster® automation technology to 10 underground loaders in its fleet operating at across five mines in the region including at Big Bell. Initially, RCT installed and commissioned three of Big Bell’s Cat R2900 underground loaders with its automation technology and two ControlMaster® Automation Centres located at secure work zones within the underground complex.

Recently, due to changing fleet demands across Westgold Resources’ operations, RCT recommissioned the same automation packages to two Sandvik 517 LHDs and one Sandvik 621 LHD at Big Bell. This flexibility is a cornerstone of ControlMaster®’s design which allows it to integrate with any machine type regardless of manufacturer.

Pleased with the results of its investment, Westgold Resources upgraded an Automation Centre to manage the loaders from site offices on the surface of the mine from where machine operators are managing the loaders 24 hours a day. RCT also installed the Multiple Machine Control (MMC) feature in the Automation Centre enabling operators to manage multiple loaders at one time.

Result

Big Bell site personnel are extremely satisfied with the ControlMaster® technology and have reported improved outcomes in multiple areas. Minterra Project Manager Stuart Porter said they were pulling at least an additional 30 buckets of dirt every 24 hours over the cross shift changes and re-entry times.

“If we have two loaders in different locations operating autonomously, your extra 30 buckets might be an extra 50 buckets over the cross shift change and that is being overseen by one operator utilising MMC on the surface,” he said.

“We have bogged between 10,000 – 12,000 tons of dirt more this month than what we had forecast.”

“Now we have set up 14 locations at Big Bell that the three autonomous loaders can access at any one time, so if one location is firing or if there is another issue then the operators can direct the machine back to the main decline, tram to the next location and away you go.”

Mr Porter said reducing loader downtime has enhanced activity at stockpiles with the underground haul trucks able to access more dirt consistently.

So instead of getting six truck loads of dirt from each stockpile for the shift then you can get 10 trucks each for the shift which is a massive improvement, he said.

Big Bell personnel have reported the technology is ideal for bogging locations that have recently been fired and which prohibit mine personnel from entering the zone for at least 24 hours afterwards.

“Within 20 minutes of firing that section of sub-level cave the autonomous loader is back in bogging the ore and there is no safety issue to site personnel in regards to smoke and blast fumes,” Mr Porter said.

Comments

“I would highly recommend ControlMaster® automation to any mining operation. With its point-to-point capabilities, make sure you have enough areas in the mine to service and you will make your money back very quickly,” Mr Porter said.

“The money that the RCT technology has saved us in preventing fleet damage alone has probably paid for the Automation Centre so you would be mad not to have automation on your machines.”

“ControlMaster® offers many other benefits including safe working conditions for the operators which is a priority as well as more comfortable working conditions.”

Westgold Big Bell Case Study

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