WesTrac, Thiess and Caterpillar® set Australian autonomous drilling record at Mt Arthur South in NSW

Global OEM Caterpillar recently joined leading Cat® dealer WesTrac and global mining services provider Thiess in celebrating an autonomous drilling record set at Thiess’ Mt Arthur South operation in New South Wales, an Australian first for Caterpillar. Such was the occasion, more than 50 representatives from all three companies – including several who travelled from the US - assembled on site to mark the achievement.

The milestone of one million metres drilled autonomously was reached in April 2024 using a fleet of three Cat MD-series drills running with Caterpillar’s autonomous drill system Cat® MineStar™ Command for drilling.

WesTrac Technology Solutions Manager Nakia Brewer says the achievement not only reflects a highly successful deployment of Cat-built autonomous drills, but the strength of a technology-driven collaboration that developed and delivered Command for drilling in a carefully planned out and phased approach.

“When implementing new technology, it’s crucial there is a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve – in this case it was to reduce operating costs and increase consistency of drilling,” he says.

“The way in which Thiess approaches technology, understanding the problem statement and how technology will ultimately solve that for them, is world leading.”

WesTrac, Caterpillar and Thiess began the Command for drilling implementation in 2019 and following a multi-phase journey, enabled a remotely located operator to control three drills, a Cat MD6250 and two Cat MD6310s, simultaneously.

Caterpillar Commercial Manager for MineStar Command for drilling Imtiaz Wadiwale, who was part of the delegation that flew from the US to witness the milestone, says the MD-series drills are designed with reliability at their core.

“They contain proven Cat electronics, utilise common parts and are designed to integrate into Cat autonomy,” he says.

“In addition, they also leverage the Cat dealer network. That is where we really shine because the same team that the customer relies on to optimise performance from its drills is the same team that the customer relies on to look after their technology solution.

“We help deliver the entire technology ecosystem to our customers. The first time we touch an orebody at a customer’s mine site is with our drills, and I believe that is where we can really maximise the value of our solutions.”

Also travelling from the US was Caterpillar’s Commercial Support for MineStar Command for drilling Mason Biernat who said the milestone was huge for Caterpillar and its MineStar Command solution.

“Seeing this system out in the field running and hitting one million metres for the first time in Australia was really exciting for us,” he states with pride.

And while Mason concedes the milestone allowed a moment to stop, reflect and celebrate, the journey of further enhancing autonomous drilling performance for customers isn’t slowing for globally reputed OEM Caterpillar.

“Caterpillar’s target is the next million metres and the next million after that. We work with our customers like Thiess to find out where else our technology products can help them. For example, can we deploy Command for Drilling on other sites? What other applications can we reach and how can we get to one million metres there as well?” Mason says.

“We want operators to be able to optimise autonomous drilling as much as possible.”

Thiess Head of Autonomy and Operations Technology Trent Smith says the program’s adoption of technology closely considered its integration with people and process, with a strong focus on change management.

“Achieving one million metres drilled autonomously is something we're very proud of,” Trent says.

“Working together with WesTrac and Caterpillar we took a drill that didn't have any automation capability and went on the journey as a team to bring through what is now three drills running autonomously with a single controller.

“We initially needed to select reliable technology that could deliver operationally and implement it in the right application. Then together with WesTrac and Caterpillar we were able to address the change management around people and process to ensure we delivered the performance.

“It's been quite exciting to see a technology product from its very infancy all the way through to an autonomous operation, and the Mt Arthur South project realising value from it.”

Now celebrating 90 years of operation, the pioneering spirit of the founding Thiess brothers lives on in the company today, which has grown a reputation for its leadership in autonomy adoption to drive sustainable change.

Thiess first adopted this ever-expanding technology in 2012 by implementing autonomous haulage at an iron ore mine in Western Australia.

It has since developed into one of the most experienced integrators of autonomous haulage, dozing and drilling technology, continually identifying, and implementing new technologies for customers and operations to enhance safety and make operations more efficient and environmentally friendly.

Like its partners at the Mt Arthur South autonomous drilling project, Thiess also shows no sign of slowing its automation capability – and it’s no wonder given some of the results recorded.

Thiess Group Executive, Assets, Autonomy and Digital Ramesh Liyanage says automation is the new frontier of mining, offering scope to enhance safety performance, lower operating costs, and drive productivity.

“Since introducing this technology at Mt Arthur South in 2021, we have recorded a 20 per cent improvement in drilling performance, up to eight per cent reduction in fuel use, more consistent drill hole quality, accuracy and depth, and drill utilisation of up to 23 hours per day,” he says.

“This year, we are also celebrating another momentous occasion - Thiess' 90th anniversary. Since our humble beginnings in 1934, our pioneering spirit has been the driving force behind our success.

“This milestone achieved, safely drilling more than one million metres autonomously at Thiess' Mt Arthur South, is a testament to this spirit, and we couldn't be prouder of the team.”

During the deployment, Thiess upskilled more than 30 of its people at Mt Arthur South from traditional drill controllers to autonomous operators, and a range of other support functions during the million-metre journey.

Across its operations, it has invested in autonomous mining systems training for more than 500 employees.

In late 2023 Thiess unveiled its fully autonomous drilling and haulage operation at a metallurgical coal mine in the Bowen Basin in Queensland, where it deployed 15 autonomous Cat 794 AC trucks, six autonomous Cat 793F trucks and three autonomous Cat MD6310 drills.

And in April 2024 it was awarded a six-year $1.9 billion contract extension at Mt Arthur South.

Thiess views an opportunity to grow automation capability across trucks, drills, and dozers not just in Australia, but at regional level across Asia and the Americas, as well as investigating rolling out future remote hub operations.

According to WesTrac NSW Mining Business Manager Craig Morris, demand for Cat-powered autonomous drilling solutions is on the rise.

“You can drive good efficiency out of these drills. That comes from embracing technology as a whole to help create advantages,” Craig says.

“With these drill rigs it’s about achieving that consistency and efficiency. Obviously, safety is a big part of it as well by being able to remove operators from the machines.”

Craig shares Trent’s sentiment that much of the program’s success is owed to effective change management including the efficiency achieved through technology applied to Cat machines.

“A significant amount of effort went in at the start between all parties, in terms of being engaged and onboard. It was a rigorous change management process, and numerous learnings came from that, which is what made it successful,” he says.

“For WesTrac, it was fantastic to have a partner that wanted to prove out the concepts of the autonomous drill and ensure it resulted in a positive outcome.”

Mt Arthur South Site

  • Autonomous Drill Fleet: 1 x Cat MD6250 + 2 x Cat MD6310s
  • Utilisation Rate: Up to 23 hours a day
  • Metres Drilled: 1 Million in 3 Years
  • Performance: 20% Improvement
  • Efficiency: 8% Reduction in Fuel Use



As one of the largest authorised Cat equipment dealers in the world, WesTrac provides customers with a wide range of machinery and construction equipment as well as comprehensive whole-of-life management solutions designed to make owning and operating equipment as easy, profitable and safe as possible.

With more than 4,500 team members, WesTrac is dedicated to creating and delivering outstanding value for our team, customers, shareholders and the community. We are committed to excellence and are focused on long-term customer relationships and a dedication to customer service, safety, quality and the environment.

Community involvement is an important part of the WesTrac philosophy, and we are proud to support local activities, events and charities in the regions we are based.

As part of Seven Group Holdings Ltd, WesTrac also has strong alliances with other leading Australian businesses, including Seven West Media, Coates Hire and SITECH.



Thiess partners with its clients to deliver sustainable solutions in open cut and underground mining in Australia, Asia and the Americas. For 90 years, Thiess has operated across diverse commodities, geologies, environments and cultures.

As a global services provider, Thiess is uniquely placed to make a significant contribution to responsible, sustainable mining and a low-carbon future by working with our clients, suppliers and the industry to enable the global energy transition. Thiess is committed to harnessing the power of its people and technology to drive sustainable change.


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Caterpillar Inc. is one of the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, off-highway diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives.

For nearly 100 years, Caterpillar have been helping customers build a better, more sustainable world and are committed and contributing to a reduced-carbon future. Caterpillar’s Innovative products and services, backed by a global dealer network, provide exceptional value that helps customers succeed.

Caterpillar does business on every continent, principally operating through three primary segments – Construction Industries, Resource Industries and Energy & Transportation – and providing financing and related services through Financial Products segment.

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