Mine Control systems have become the norm across both underground and open cut mining operations. These office-based specialists deliver value in intermeshing operators and the engineering offices plan for the day. Collecting data, shift metrics, assisting operators with ore sorting and when fully integrated, prioritising trucking cycles to optimise haulage.
Projects will have become accustomed to this function being embedded at the offices of the mining operation. Often seen in a corner of the mine’s central hub, hiding behind a wall of screens! With various digital graphs and charts to help explain if the targets for the shift are being met.
With advancing capabilities in both the operator focused data capture and the core software that allows for improved intra-shift metrics, this position has a growing support role for cutting edge mining operations.
The scale of many underground operations may however hamper mine owners progress to fully extract the value of such systems. As even mining giants that own multiple underground operations may not streamline and standardise their mine control methodologies across their portfolio of projects.
This can be due to several reasons, including different mining methods, alternative contractors delivering the schedule of works and geographically spread operational jurisdictions.
The industry could look to vendors or the service sector to provide this function externally, increasing standardisation and value. This could not only be delivered by a third-party provider but could also be transposed away from an operation all together.
Multiple industry leading iron ore miners have already removed several key operational support roles away from the project front line to Perth based ops centres. The scale of these projects coupled with huge life of mine, makes this infrastructure a viable option.
Remote Operations Centres (ROCs) have been utilised across other sectors for some time. Most noticeably in the oil and gas sector, where numerous different operational activities are happening offshore. Fugro, a service provider to this sector, has successfully implemented several ROCs around the globe. Servicing not only their own fleet but also acting as a conduit for other parts of the oil & gas extraction process.
Oz Minerals, the South Australian based mine owner and operator, was one of the first underground focused miners to deliver a remote operating centre for its operations. It was also able to use tele-remote systems, in conjunction with its main contractor Byrnecut, to maneuverer an underground loader from Adelaide, over 600km from the mine site! This opens a whole range of geographically improved job roles based remotely from operations.
It is then interesting to discuss if mining operations could outsource this function, not only away from their projects but also to a third-party service provider to deliver better value to their projects and ultimately bottom line.
Positives to outsourcing to a third-party ROC:
- Engage with industry experts, who can not only deliver experienced operators but can also streamline your deliverables.
- Standardise the process by integrating projects with an industry best practice methodology. A tailored, cookie cutter approach, instead of reinventing the wheel for each new project or business.
- Upgrades, schedule maintenance and tech support all delivered from a fixed, easily accessible city location.
- Reduces costs across the board, as there is reduced head count at the mine site camp (flights, accommodation, food etc.). Whilst simultaneously reducing wage costs and head count.
Negatives to outsourcing to a third-party ROC:
- Loss of personal touch and relationship between mine control team and operators.
- Lack of experience with specifics of mining projects, and/or exposure to certain operational styles for primarily city-based operatives.
- IT integration could be time consuming and hard to maintain, as mining businesses often employ very high security features. With communication delays and outages, a possibility.
- Perceived lack of integration and ability to easily discuss, digest, amend and execute ever changing daily mine schedule.
- Security and increased risk around leakage of sensitive operational data.
It is certain that as technologies and communications improve, multiple roles will shift from the mine site to city-based offices. This has already been achieved for high level engineering roles, where designs and inputs can be tweaked with discussion and influence from the Chief Operating Officer a short walk away.
What the future looks like for this small, yet growing, part of the underground mining puzzle is yet to be determined. However, consolidation of ideas, shared learning and streamlining of expectations across the industry will aid successful value adding adoption.
Whether this comes from mine owned ROCs, as seen with the major iron ore miners. A mining contractor delivered service from Byrnecut/Barminco, or simply a completely third-party provider, is yet to be determined.
IF A MINE CONTROL JOB OR CITY BASED ROC ROLE COULD BE FOR YOU… TRY THE SOUTH METRO TAFE COURSE: Certificate IV in Autonomous Control and Remote Operations … IT FOCUSES ON ALL THINGS REQUIRED TO DELIVER A SHIFT IN A ROC!
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