“Bolt-on” control system provides the benefits of autonomy without a costly retrofit

The search for better productivity

Autonomous mining drills have been proven to work with better productivity and less wear and tear than their manually operated equivalents. But at our Mont Wright iron ore mine in Canada, which has three different types of drills from two different manufacturers, switching to a fully autonomous operation was a major challenge. Retrofitting its existing equipment would be a costly exercise, involving a complete redesign of onboard systems.

Extra technology layer

The mine worked with supplier Caterpillar to install a bolt-on system that works with the machine’s existing controls, together with a satellite positioning system. Rather than replacing the onboard systems, this extra technology layer enables human operators to also manage and monitor the drill remotely while it drills autonomously. As well as resulting in better drilling quality, less variability and lower maintenance, this hybrid system has an additional benefit: operators can now monitor multiple drills simultaneously while they drill autonomously, increasing safety while increasing operational efficiency.