Mines News

Release Date Thursday, January 11, 2024

Caterpillar Internship Brings Mines Student to Autonomous Mine Down Under

Lauren Fritz, a mining engineering major at South Dakota Mines, stands in front of a Cat large wheel loader during her summer 2023 internship. 

Lauren Fritz, a mining engineering major at South Dakota Mines, spent part of her summer in Australia thanks to an internship with Caterpillar.

“I got to work with one of the autonomous mine sites in the world,” says Fritz. “All the machines there are Caterpillar, and we got to see all of them interacting with each other all by themselves.”    

Fritz was on-site in Western Australia as an engineering intern to witness and observe some of Caterpillar’s autonomous machines. “All of the equipment on site was operating so well. It was really cool to see huge haul trucks, the size of houses, operating autonomously. It was a fantastic window into the future of mining engineering.”

One item that Fritz noticed is that autonomous mining still includes highly trained people who are needed to keep the operation running.

“There is still a lot of stigma that increasing autonomous systems will take away jobs.  I see it more as shifting jobs into new roles,” says Fritz. “In Australia, I was able to talk to a lot of operators and they were all in full support of the conversion to autonomous vehicles on the site. For one, it vastly increased safety. They also noted that no haul-truck drivers lost their jobs at the mine; they were just relocated to other areas where they were still needed.”

Fritz points out that trained personnel are still required for the operation of autonomous mining vehicles. These autonomous systems still need everyone from mining engineers to lead them to the right areas in the ore body to computer programmers to maintain the software. “Mining engineers and other skilled professionals are still going to be around, even as mines move to autonomous systems, professionals are still needed in all areas of this industry from mine planning to equipment sales.”

Alongside her stint in Australia, Fritz spent part of the summer crossing the United States. She spent time in Peoria. Ill., and then traveled to Arizona to visit Caterpillar’s Tucson Proving Ground. “It was great because I got to see some Caterpillar machines that I had not seen before. It was really, really fun,” she says.

Fritz says her studies at Mines prepared her for this internship in ways she was not expecting.

“I had to constantly think about what I have learned about the operation of underground and surface mines and how Caterpillar can help meet the needs of those in the industry.  It also made me realize that my mining engineering background gives me many opportunities at a company like Caterpillar -- from sales to mine and equipment design and much more.”   

Fritz has participated on campus at the Cat® Labs MineStar Consortium for the past two years and has accepted Caterpillar’s offer to continue her internship into the school year working on the campus of South Dakota Mines.

Her experience is an example of the benefits of taking on an internship while in college. The most recent data from the class of 2022 shows 100% placement rate in their field of study for Mines students who took part in an internship during their college career.  The data also shows that graduates who completed at least one internship landed an average starting salary of $72,458 compared to those without an internship of $62,558. 

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About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Gray Hughes, 605-394-2554, Gray.Hughes@sdsmt.edu