8 lessons learnt from dredging projects

There’s no shortage of hold-ups when it comes to dredging projects, with such a big industry, Australia is full of them. Ahead of Dredging and Reclamation 2014, I caught up with a few project leaders to see where mistakes have been made. Some key areas stood out that I wanted to share with you:

Mapping is key

Financial considerations are hard to overestimate in any project. Developers can often be unwilling to spend money on mapping and monitoring, instead opting for the simplest possible technique. Unfortunately, as you go down the line with this approach, there’s still some surprise when the approvals get rejected. Without the right equipment, the operation tends to go over thresholds or other similar measurements. In the field, the simplest technique doesn’t give you the answer all the time. You’ll only end up having to spend your money on fines and delays instead. Be one step ahead of the regulators and the public.

Transferring risk can end up costing big bucks

Dredging project owners are always looking to reduce their risk, trying to create contracts that transfer risk to the dredging contractor and it doesn’t work. A contractor can decide at some point that they haven’t made enough money, pick an area of AS 2124 and attack it and make a claim. If multiple contractors operate within a wharf or similar structure at the same time, this can cause access issues and lead to further claims.

There’s an illusion in the current way contracts are done that risk can be transferred from the project owner. Whilst this may save short term costs, it can lead to substantial cost and time delays down the line.

Owners still have a lack of experience in terms of practical dredging knowledge. Most teams have a procurement unit working in isolation and independently of everyone else, which leads to a single vision. Risk becomes points on a paper inside a contract that becomes transferred rather than dealt with from a practical view.

Communication is top priority

It seems obvious, but it’s still an area that leads to many issues throughout the dredging process. This is crucial both for contract relationships and to avoid delays and disputes from stakeholders.

Collaboration, partnership, and being able to see another person’s perspective is key. Building a rapport builds confidence and trust that the contract and project is being handled responsibly – work together early and often, both at the project level and more broadly.

Good planning up front and a robust assessment of baseline environmental conditions needs to be locked in. Have a very well defined project description early on and don’t change it. All of those things will help approvals, stakeholder communication and consultation.

The ‘unforeseen’ can be avoided

If you’re acting for the Principal, start thinking about the likelihood of unexpected conditions at the early feasibility stage of a project right up to when you select a tenderer. After selecting a tenderer and the Contractor is working on site, you lose much of the power to influence. Take steps to identify possible latent conditions at any early stage, before you’re confronted with them during project execution.

Latent conditions need to be managed

If a Principal is faced with a more complex project with varying soil and rock types, then it is well advised to carry out a more thorough investigation to lower the risk of not detecting a latent condition. Obviously there is a cut off; a Principal can’t investigate every cubic meter for the planned Project.

Any site investigation can only be a representation of anticipated subsurface conditions. Principals should always aim to reduce the risk to an acceptable degree. Consider Early Contractor Involvement with the scope of the planned site investigation.

Geotechnical modelling has huge potential

 

Both the Principal and the Contractor should formulate a robust 3D geotechnical model of the likely subsurface conditions. The model can determine what materials you are likely to encounter in different types and categories.

The Principal’s consultant and the Contractor’s production estimator can then calculate the derived productions fairly accurately. If a latent condition is encountered, a geotechnical model can provide the parties with a benchmark to calculate where the differences are. Be wary of interpretation – different biases can lead to issues.

Take proactive measures

A proactive way of dealing with disputes as they arise is needed. A dispute board can be selected for their knowledge and expertise before any dispute has arisen. By undertaking an on-going relationship and regular site visits, the dispute board will acquire a good working knowledge of the project. When a dispute arises, the dispute board will have a much better understanding than a court or arbitral tribunal, which will only be appointed after a dispute has arisen.

Keep learning and evolving

The fundamental of dredging is that you dig the stuff up out of the ground and put it somewhere – that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the way that you do it, and that’s driven from environmental approvals.

The management of reclamation areas has improved enormously, and understanding how to minimise the amount of turbidity or sediments that get back into the environment. That’s going to become much more important as work is done in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Innovation will be dealing with the conditions and coming up with the best outcome using all of your knowledge and resources available to come up with a solution.

The Dredging and Reclamation conference has been developed as a value creation forum where knowledge, new ideas, best practice and real world learning experiences can be shared amongst other dredging professionals. Providing key case studies from leading practitioners, the conference will share insight into Australia’s most exciting dredging projects in the planning, design or development stages.

Find out more by visiting www.dredgingandreclamation.com.au or call 02 9229 1090.

It’s time for simulation modelling to shine

With a push for productivity improvement and cost reduction across the resource sector, simulation modelling has come under the spotlight as a method to help reach that goal. Previously used as a support tool, some resource companies are starting to drive modelling in new holistic and strategic directions.

The big players in the market are exploring programmes that align various parts of the business. One example is Rio Tinto’s ‘Integrated Value Chain Engagement Project’, which focuses on modelling to support integrated value chain analysis (running scenarios and establishing sensitivities throughout the whole process) and supports expansion projects (giving expected outcomes and establishing red flag areas).

The benefits

Jacob Rousseau, Simulation Engineer at Rio Tinto explains: “Our medium term mine planners go out and put together a mine plan for a site. We’ll then create a map of the site and analyse how it’s going to operate for the first 12 months. Essentially, we add their plans into our models and play it through – we can easily highlight potential flaws or problems which gives us a clear picture of the next year.”

This process acts as decision support, identifying the best approach for bottlenecks as mine engineers and managers might have different ideas on how to unlock value from the process. Simulation modelling enables mine sites to test each solution through the system.

As the decade-long mining expansion is starting to slow down, the emphasis on scenario testing has turned to upcoming projects and ensuring a streamlined operation.

“We’ve all heard the two buzz words; productivity improvement and cost reduction. We have a lot of projects that are still set to be built so we’re really focusing on how they can be more productive and improve output over input.

“Modelling allows us to look at where we can make improvements to each process, so if I have a truck, how can I get that truck to give me a little bit more stuff without buying another truck; or at this process plant, how can I make more use of the time that we don’t use the plant and maybe use it better etc.. There are improvement initiatives happening across most of the business units, especially in iron ore.”

In addition to value chain process improvements, there are some real cost savings to be made from modelling. One of the positives of running such a large operation with a number of people involved is the pool of experts with cost reduction ideas. Jacob talked me through a few areas where results are tangibly recognised:

“One of the engineers might have the idea to extend the load on a truck for example, going back and forwards to a crusher. We can check if it’s going to save more time or if actually it’s better to under-load that truck to get it moving quicker and conduct a faster turnaround., Will there be queuing problems? We’ll have scenario results from all possible options.

“The other thing is debottlenecking. During modelling studies we look at our whole process, identify a bottleneck, and in the model remember the bottleneck, play it again and see where the next bottleneck is. You build up to the target to where you need to be.

“People aren’t currently always seeing the true bottleneck; you have to understand the wider cost drivers of a process, even beyond your mine because that’s also being missed and sometimes misinterpreted.”

Challenges

With these clear benefits in mind, I started to explore some of the key challenges faced to establish what’s holding up resource companies from fully utilising simulation modelling.

The main and arguably most long standing obstacle is gaining the acceptance of modelling in the first place. There’s no doubt the resource sector has gone through leaps and bounds integrating technology over the last ten years; newer generations coming into management have driven automation into daily operations. However, all technology comes at a cost, and it needs to prove its worth.

It’s an area where Jacob has experience getting people on board: “You really have to go in and sell it, be confident that it’s going to give you the best answers and give you long term value going forward. You have to build the capability within the organisation too. When I started six years ago, it was just me – we now have a team of six and it’s still expanding.”

The future

There’s still a long way to go, and a lot still to be learnt if widespread efficiencies are going to be made across the sector. Jacob’s been in the industry for many years now and explains how there’s still big scope to expand: “All the mining houses could be utilising this technology more than they currently do, it’s still in its infancy. As soon as more people realise how to use even the more simple tools, taking this holistic approach to the whole process can make significant improvements.”

For more on the latest and greatest in Mining, check out our Mining IQ website – it features a world of useful content for anyone in the mining industry.

The key to collision avoidance at Anglo American

The very nature of most autonomous systems in mining mean innovations and developments keep being implemented. Supporting technologies, such as collision avoidance, have to keep up with the hardware they support.

One of the biggest challenges with collision avoidance is identifying your high risk areas on the vehicle routes. With routes changing regularly, and operations changing also as different parts of the mine are under production, the biggest challenge is that your highest risk areas will never be the same two months (or even potentially two days!) running.

One key way of being able to understand your high risk areas from the very start is working closely with your mine design and mine planners. Collaboration between teams on haul route design and tunnel layout can mean minimising some of those risks from the offing. It is much harder to go into a already designed mine site and begin implementing autonomous truck systems than to plan a mine with that in mind from the start.

Another way of mitigating your risks is of course being very careful with your technology selection. There are many different options in the market for both autonomous truck solutions, but more specifically, collision avoidance systems. Industrea, SAFEmine, Becker NCS, Cat Minestar System, TerraVision, LSM Technologies and Acumine are just a few of the many solution providers in the market offering a collision avoidance product.

Ahead of his presentation at Mine Automation and Communication in Queensland, I recently caught up with Chris Doran at Anglo American to see how they’re addressing the challenge of matching technology up with safety.

Anglo American, like most mining houses have a well-established risk management process already in place which is aligned with the training for every employee.

Chris and his team are now focusing on taking that process and applying a more detailed look at technology selection to see how technology can address specific risks.

“A lot of people think risk is really just the 5 x 5 matrix as a fairly standard across pretty much all the mining houses.

“What we’ve started to see from the industry is a look to how new or advanced technologies, are actually changing that risk profile.

“We know there’s a new control being introduced as we’re putting technology in but we don’t necessarily have a really good feel for how it actually changes the risk profile; We’re doing a lot of work now to quantifying exactly how much it improves.”

As the use of technology to drive operations across mine sites looks set to continue, it’s becoming more important for functional safety to know how reliable your controls are so you can modify the profile and put something in place to manage that risk. Chris insists this can be achieved by making small tweaks in the current system:

“The whole point is that we’re not radically changing a well-established approach to managing risk, we’re just improving the processes we already have.

“The key is to focus your efforts on the areas where you know the risks are elevated, then determine what you would like them to be. Use that goal to guide the technology choices you need to make.

“For instance with proximity management, if we look at collisions, we’re starting to investigate beyond the collisions themselves and tackle the hazardous interactions that are occurring around that.  It’s about anything where there are two things; that could be a person, a machine, or a piece of infrastructure. We’ll then map this out into anywhere that is causing a risk, based on prior incidents, industry reports and operational experience.

“We’ve been using a suite of tools go through that process, moving away from the subjectiveness of risk assessments. Mapping everything out into a hazardous interactions graph, rather like heat spots, allows us to clearly see where we should be focusing our efforts so we can find a solution to manage those risks.”

“We’ll always look if there’s an easy fix, a change in process for example, but once we’ve exhausted those options the risks that are left will guide our technology choices.

“At Anglo American, we’re really using that process to refine the requirements for our future collision avoidance needs for the business, no two risk profiles are the same, no-one’s got exactly the same equipment,  you really need to manage according to how you’re operating, what equipment you’ve got and what your local conditions are.  During Underground Mining Excellence I’ll share the tools we’ve used along the way and how we’ve applied that idea.”

 Get the insight from Chris during Mine Site Automation and Communication QLD 2014 where he will be sharing his presentation Beyond Compliance – Taking a Structured Risk Reduction Approach to Collision Avoidance Underground.  Call 02 9229 1000 or visit www.mineautomation.com.au/qld for more information.