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Record-Breaking Robotics

Mazahir Yusuf

Nearly 15 years ago, Mazahir Yusuf was studying at Curtin University and undertaking work experience with Hitachi Rail.

Now, he is a Program Manager with 300 indirect reports and shares a Guinness World Record for the world’s heaviest robot. We spoke about being part of a career-highlight project right out of uni and what’s next for Maz and Hitachi Rail.

What do you like most about working for Hitachi Rail?

Every kid’s dream is to work with big trains and I get to. I studied robotics, graduated with an Engineering degree in Mechatronics, and now I’m delivering the driverless systems for autonomous trains — taking what I studied and implementing it in practice.

I’m an engineer at heart, so I like solving complex problems. I get to do that working on pioneering projects like AutoHaul™ for Rio Tinto. As the technical and delivery lead, we developed the train management system that enabled the first driverless heavy haul freight rail fleet in the world. There was no real template, so every challenge was new and unique. I spent 10 years problem solving and that’s what keeps it interesting.

I’m currently Hitachi Rail’s Program Manager for the Rio Tinto program. I have a team of managers who handle the day-to-day delivery of the different program projects, while my focus is on the technical development pathway for Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto are innovators and see new technology as the enabler, which allows us to explore and pursue new things that we wouldn’t normally pursue. Who would have thought 20 years ago that we would develop the technology for a remote driverless heavy haul freight rail operation? Now these 2.5-kilometre robot trains, that are operated from a central control centre in Perth 1,000 kilometres away, have won a Guinness World Record for the heaviest robot in the world.

You don’t get to work on a lot of world-first projects, especially straight out of uni. It was a lot of late nights and weekends working, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Rio Tinto gave me a framed Guinness World Record certificate, and I received a Hitachi Technology Award in 2020 signed by Hitachi Chairman Mr Toshiaki Higashihara.

Hitachi Rail

What is your big focus now?

Like Hitachi, Rio Tinto have made a commitment to reach net zero by 2050 and want to reduce emissions by 15% by 2030.

A key step in reaching this goal is the decarbonisation of its heavy haul rail fleet. Rio Tinto has acquired a number of battery electric locomotives and we’re currently working to integrate them with the AutoHaul™ system. We are currently in the proof-of-concept phase of this significant decarbonisation project.

We’re evaluating the different challenges of integrating battery electric with our technologies and exploring how we can use technology to innovate and optimise the outcomes for our client.

Hitachi Rail is doing this by deconstructing and reimagining how we can conserve energy across each piece of equipment that makes up the AutoHaul™ system. There are no recharging capabilities in the Pilbara region in far north-west Western Australia; how to adjust the driving of the train to use the regenerative capacity of the brakes to pump up the batteries is just one of the unknowns that we’re working through.

Everyone is looking for solutions for getting to net zero and it’s cool we get to play a part in that. We have a lot to offer in terms of both sustainability and technology, and for me personally – it’s another problem to solve.

What is your vision for the future of Hitachi?

Definitely leading in sustainability and positive environmental impacts. We want to create sustainable, net-zero solutions to decarbonise rail and demonstrate and deliver this to our clients across the projects we do.

Digitalisation is also key. We’ve got the resources to deliver digital solutions to help our clients be more proactive in maintenance and managing assets, to generate more benefits for their business, customers and operators.

We’re part of Hitachi; with so many different industries working together to contribute to a better society, there are so many things you can learn and specialisations you can use, that’s the advantage we have as Hitachi.