OPINION: Partnerships Towards a Sustainable Future: Thiess Pursuing Transformation

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Attendees at the Bowen Basin Mining Club’s September luncheon in Mackay heard from two senior leaders at Thiess about the company’s experience in automation and how they are contributing to the decarbonisation transformation that is central to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

Thiess is a well-respected Tier 1 mining services provider in the industry today, with an origin in contracting that began 90 years ago in the Toowoomba region. Thiess was there at the foundation of the Bowen Basin coal industry and have recently pioneered a new frontier in autonomous mining services, harnessing the power of people and technology to create a sustainable future.

Trent Smith, Head of Autonomy & Operations Technology, provided an overview of Thiess’ approach to automation, which focuses on working with clients to improve operational safety, reduce operating costs and implement innovation.

He used the example of Pembroke Resources’ Olive Downs Complex, which has gone from a greenfield site to an autonomous mining operation within the space of 18 months.

With plans to operate 15 autonomous Caterpillar 794AC, six autonomous Caterpillar 793 haul trucks and three autonomous drills supported by 85 connecting assets and a private LTE network, Thiess has notched up a number of world firsts as a mining services provider deploying new technology.

But Mr Smith says the core learning from Thiess’ adoption of autonomous technologies so far is that it’s not just about the technology.

“Autonomy is an organisational transformation. Technology provides the foundation for reliable operations, however delivering operational performance is achieved by integrating people and process with the technology.”

“There are also important partnerships involved in successful automation deployments. Delivering and enabling autonomy programs requires close collaboration between miners, OEMs, communications and technology partners.”

“It’s a full process – you have to weave autonomy through the business from the ground up. Autonomy doesn’t just touch operations – there’s training, HR and maintenance that all have to come on the journey.”

In taking on the challenge of automating Olive Downs Complex operations, the ultimate goal was reliability. Remarkably, the autonomous haul fleet at Olive Downs hit production targets only two months into full operation – a unique result in a greenfields operation.

The career pathways created to move traditional mining roles across to autonomous mine roles are also impressive, with the business reimagining the way people work on a mine site and using their skills to the biggest advantage.

The theme of transformation continued in the second half of the keynote, as Matt Sayers, Head of Assets for Australia East, highlighted significant challenges for the industry across decarbonisation, an aging fleet with short asset life, and capital competition as input costs increase. But these challenges come with an opportunity for collaboration with suppliers, industry and technology partners.

Mr Sayers presented Thiess’ decarbonisation roadmap, which includes exciting initiatives underway now to integrate low-carbon, cost-competitive and remote operations technology.

One of the key immediate initiatives in the roadmap is the trial of dual fuel technology. As part of their partnership with Mine Energy Solutions, Thiess is currently running a 793F truck trial at one of their sites in the Bowen Basin to evaluate the use of dual fuel – high-density compressed natural gas (HDCNG) and diesel – with the ultimate aim of up to 80% natural gas substitution.

“The first step is really winning people’s hearts and minds and bringing them along on the journey. HDCNG isn’t necessarily an endpoint but it’s an important step along the way to use a less emission intensive fuel to replace diesel and bring down the total greenhouse gas emission profile. The trial to date has made inroads into the targeted substitution with a second truck being commissioned in Q4 this year. It is certainly a step in the right direction.”

It’s not all about fuel and energy though. Thiess also talked about implementing composite chassis frames on their 793C/D fleet to reduce stress and extend asset life, with the cost-competitive and waste reduction element of decarbonisation in mind.

“Again, this is about changing the way it’s always been done, which takes a people-first approach throughout. The people need to be on board with the journey first, and then the team can deliver.”

For suppliers, Sayers urged an understanding of the journey towards decarbonisation and asset stewardship, with the solutions a long-term journey rather than an overnight solution.

“We’d love for our suppliers to partner with us on sustainability projects, understand our asset and operational future, and help us develop and integrate the latest technology. A two-way conversation and relationship is where that begins, so bring us your ideas.”

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Jodie Currie

Director, Bowen Basin Mining Club

The final Bowen Basin Mining Club luncheon for 2023 will be held in Mackay on 24 November, with a panel of mining C-suite executives. Tickets are on sale now via

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