The global mining landscape is relying on innovation and technology to drive it forwards. The Austmine 2017 Conference and Exhibition will focus on the most advanced mining projects around the world and showcase the latest cutting-edge technology.
Technology and innovation is at the front of the mind in Australia right now, especially for Roy Hill. We caught up with Barry Fitzgerald, CEO of Roy Hill, to discuss how Roy Hill will roll out innovation and automation to future proof business operations.
Currently, Roy Hill is looking to bring together SME suppliers for innovation brainstorm days. How has this come about and where do you see the advantage in working with SME METS companies when focusing on innovation?
Roy Hill has started bringing together SME suppliers in the IT area initially, where we had a very detailed plan to go forward, so it is really a natural extension of something that we found that worked for us in the IT area. The reality is that Roy Hill sees the SMEs bringing a capacity we don’t have, as well as different approaches, and we feel by working with them we can look at a way of creating a better outcome.
Roy Hill can provide SMEs with opportunities, clear identification of potential problems to solve and a real live test bed. We also have a very open mind to them maintaining IP, and for Roy Hill, this collaboration certainly solves some of our problems and allows us to move forward on issues we’re facing.
What has been the most important milestone for Roy Hill in 2016 and what do you see as your biggest milestone for 2017?
Roy Hill has had two critical milestones this year. The first was taking over the process plant on the 1 February, and the second was achieving lenders practical completion on 1 December.
For 2017, the key milestone will be achieving lenders completion. This means Roy Hill will have achieved 55 million times the design capacity of our plant and has addressed some initial start-up issues and resolved problems. Lenders completion will mean we can define the process and move forward in talking with METS and other providers, as well as getting the reliability and availability that Roy Hill needs to achieve capacity.
Roy Hill is an incredible technology-enabled mine, and you have spoken previously at Austmine 2015 conference last year about how lucky you were as a Greenfield project to do this from the start. What are the next technological step changes you wish to embrace?
The Greenfield Project allowed Roy Hill to take a very holistic view of our systems and processes. Based on this and the technology at Greenfield, we invested in systems and put in a different approach to managing the business.
The first level of yield or development is consolidating and developing some of the early methodology we put in. There is opportunity in embedding the lower, cheaper and easier technologies more effectively, as well as growing the base in which they operate technologies such as drones, the use of sensors and other hand-held devices.
The next development is to adopt technology at an intermediate level. We have been working with people about automatic refuelers, changing the engine management systems on equipment, and putting in different driver assist or cruise control technology through our locomotives, so that there is another level of innovation coming though there.
The third level is moving down on the larger pieces of equipment and, really, that would have broader scale application across the business. Roy Hill is moving down the path of autonomous drills and autonomous trucks. Also, the cruise control with the locomotives on our rolling stock fleet will also be a critical one.
The other area is data and we have the capacity to gather a huge amount of data, whether it is our super site for the railroad, the locomotive diagnostics or the plant process. Big data and how we use this to identify and resolve problems is crucial in being able to move forward and has to be the second, non-physical progress that we made this year.
There is much talk in the sector about a pending skills challenge in relation to new skill sets we need for our digital and technology driven mines. With Roy Hill being such a mine, do you have any plans in place to secure the next generation of staff you will need?
Most importantly, we need to seek people with the right behaviours, skills and attitudes and then teach them the skills specific to the mining industry.
Mining experience is not what we see as the most critical characteristic. There are a lot of very competent people in other industries other than mining, and perhaps it’s those different perspectives and different approaches that will also help us generate a much broader way of doing business.
Longer term, we have recently set up facility here called Rocked, which is about trying to highlight to high school students the opportunities and benefits of stem subjects. This is also associated with trying to highlight the opportunities within the mining industry in general and our contribution, so that is a small part of it.
Hear more from Barry Fitzgerald, CEO, Roy Hill during Austmine 2017 between 22 – 24 May 2017 at Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.