Austmine Newcastle Mining Innovation Roadshow Review: Shaun Booth, Group Manager Resource Development, Glencore

Austmine Newcastle Mining Innovation Roadshow Review: Shaun Booth, Group Manager Resource Development, Glencore

Attendees were treated to an excellent presentation from Shaun Booth, Group Manager Resource Development, Glencore on the topic of “Disruptive Technologies and Step Cost Changes.” He explored the innovations that have created dramatic transformations in mining over the years and the lessons that we can draw from this. Shaun also provided his opinion on the key technologies that will create similar changes in the future, including autonomous vehicles and fully continuous miners.  

Shaun began by taking a step back and examining the current operating environment of the mining industry. This is characterised by declining ore grades, with the average copper grade falling to 0.5% globally, and more complexity in the mining process. His message was with everything getting harder, the only way we can survive long-term is through the application of new technologies.  

Shaun first looked at the underground mining process and its mechanisation and automation over time. The first Joy Global continuous miner was implemented at the Huntley mine in Australia in 1950, followed by the first retreat longwall installation in Wollongong in 1965. These technologies revolutionised underground mining and led to substantial increases in production.

Moving towards the present day, the focus has been on creating underground systems that are truly continuous, to reach production and cost targets. Glencore’s longwall automation trials from 2000 – 2004 had exceptional results, helping them reach 40% of overall Australian underground production. Then in 2014, the Joy Global Flexible Conveyor Train emerged as the next potential disruptor, a remote-controlled system of continuous haulage. Glencore has utilised the technology and Shaun believes they will reap the benefits, surpassing issues such as engineering and maintenance, development of roadways and longwall space.

Shaun went on to discuss that the next wave of innovative technologies from China that are set to disrupt the industry. Innovation is being driven by demand for energy from the local population and Chinese miners have had to search deeper for coal reserves. Over 3.5 billion tonnes of coal per year is mined in China, with 90% of that through underground mining. The average depth of an underground mine in China is greater than 1 kilometre, whilst Australia’s deepest is 600 metres. This means that they must be at the leading edge of technology to create solutions that operate effectively and safely in such environments. In China, the first research and development went into longwall top coal caving (LWTCC) in the 1980s, with over 200 of these mines in operation by 2012. In contrast, Australia only has 3 LWTCC, with BHP planning to automate them all by 2020. This shows that Chinese companies, in many cases are actually ahead of mining technology in Australia, which needs to be addressed by our local METS.

Shaun then looked at the disruptive forces in open-cut mining, which has been driven by productivity improvements through economies of scale of equipment. Many innovations in this space have been implemented by contract miners to improve operations, as the mining companies themselves are often too risk averse to adopt new technology. However, he reiterated that equipment must be fit for purpose depending on the site, providing the example that most early open cut mines needed to be flat seams to fit equipment, whereas in the present day the reduction of potential reserves is currently challenging the existence of the dragline industry.

He pointed to the utilisation of excavators as disrupting the open cut sector in the 1980s. They have largely replaced shovels which were the only option at the time and quite unreliable. He used the example of Glencore’s Mount Owen mine to demonstrate this shift in technology, where a number of coal seams were left untouched due to the costs of utilising them. When excavators were introduced to their site in 1993, this brought costs down significantly and Glencore were able to go back and mine these seams that were previously uneconomical.

Looking forward, Shaun explored various technologies that will be similar disruptors in the future. Autonomous trucks have already began to roll out at BHP, Rio Tinto and FMG mine sites, and this will be the norm in the future. Whilst they can currently only operate on simple circuits, with slow moving advances and haul largely homogenous materials, technology will continue to evolve and more complexity will be built into the system. The key benefits of autonomous vehicles are the gains associated with eliminating human error, reducing labour costs and doing more with less equipment. Improved capital utilisation is the goal for miners with automation, as it creates far more savings than reducing labour costs and relies on mine design and reducing complexity around vehicle interaction.

An ACARP project was cited, in line with automation initiatives, aiming to take away the fear of hitting trucks and dozers during shovel loading. An AutoSwing feature was created, which allowed the continuous loading of trucks, but with technology built in to override the system if a collision is likely. Not only has this successfully created safety benefits, the AutoSwing provided an 11.5% reduction in shovel swing time, improving productivity in the pursuit of safety.

Other areas Shaun pointed towards for disruption included surface miners that allow for selective mining without loss and dilution from blasting, the extinction of larger trucks at automated sites due to prolonged queue times, and companies such as John Deere making acquisitions that will shift technologies from other industries to mining.

Overall, it was an insightful presentation that discussed a range of areas where we have seen mining innovation revolutionise how we operate. You can download Shaun’s presentation slides in the member self-service portal.

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