Mining equipment manufacturer Caterpillar has signed an agreement to partner with US-based gold producer Newmont Mining to develop and improve technology used in underground hard rock mining vehicle automation.

The companies’ joint efforts will be supported by Cashman Equipment, a Nevada-based Caterpillar dealer.

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As part of the collaboration, the parties will initially focus on Caterpillar’s semi-autonomous system for underground loaders, known as command for underground.

“We are tackling a new frontier in mining to improve safety, productivity and costs.”

Newmont uses Caterpillar underground vehicle automation technology in its operations, including command for underground loaders in its Carlin gold mines located in northern Nevada.

Newmont Leeville mine underground operations manager Graden Colby said: “Automating underground loaders enables machine operators to work safely and efficiently from a control room on the surface.

“In addition to enhancing safety, the semi-autonomous system increases loader utilisation, improves productivity and allows one operator to control two or more machines.”

Through the collaboration, Caterpillar and Newmont intend to make further improvements in terms of underground vehicle automation, including improvement of existing technology and deployment of new features.

Newmont Carlin underground operations general manager David Thornton said: “Through our shared vision with Caterpillar and Cashman – along with senior management commitment – we are tackling a new frontier in mining to improve safety, productivity and costs.

“The agreement provides the platform for new or improved capabilities to be jointly and quickly scoped, piloted, proven and adopted into operations.”

The collaboration agreement also covers information sharing for assistance in strategic and tactical decision-making with respect to automation.

Additionally, Newmont expects the partnership to pave way for rapid replication across its operations by leveraging Caterpillar’s global business model and dealer network.

Newmont operational technology and innovation vice-president Mike Wundenberg noted that the deployment of Command for underground operating model at other mines will create more value.