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What has changed during 30 years of quarry?

When first asked about the changes to the industry over the past 30 years, Dayne Steggles’ initial impression was: “Well, not a great deal has changed, it only seems like yesterday.” But then he added: “Of course, the reality is a lot different.”

In 1984, the year Quarry was first published, the young Steggles spent his school holidays helping his father with quarry development plans. “If I was lucky, I was out in the field, where dad was developing greenfield quarry resources,” he said.

Now, as business development manager for Boral Recycling in Kooragang, in New South Wales’ Hunter region, and chairman of the IQA’s NSW Hunter Region sub-branch, Steggles has come a long way. He declared the development of the recycled aggregates industry as the most unexpected surprise of the past 30 years. {{image2-A:R-w:250}}

“In 1984, I don’t think there was any regard for a recycled aggregates industry,” he said. “The recycled aggregates sector didn’t really take off until the 1990s. In NSW, the recycled aggregates sector gained momentum during preparations for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and hit its straps post-2000.”

Another industry stalwart, Greg Goodsir, chairman of the Australian Institute of Quarrying Education Foundation (AIQEF), a former IQA president and a previous manager of Peats Ridge, Emu Plains and other quarries, agreed that the rise of the recycled aggregates sector had been surprising. However, he also attributed this shift to the environmental situation, particularly in the Sydney metropolitan area, which prevents new quarries from operating and has forced many other businesses to innovate.

“I have seen many quarries in Sydney exhausted and others just close down,” Goodsir said. “One of the greatest changes is how businesses have worked with concrete mixtures so that they can produce crushed fines as a sand replacement. It’s almost like recycling a waste product but it’s occurred out of necessity because we are running out of environmentally accessible sand.”

However, the swing from virgin quarry materials to recycled aggregates and manufactured sands has its downsides too.

According to Mike Cooper, a former manager of Boral’s Petrie Quarry in Brisbane and a past chairman of the IQA’s Queensland branch committee, “manufactured sands are more equipment and energy-intensive to produce and can be more difficult to consistently achieve the desired quality”.

Someone well placed to look back on major changes in the industry because he was involved in the inception of Quarry is industry stalwart and former IQA Victorian branch chairman Mike Cameron.

He explained that it was predicted in the 1980s that recycled aggregate in the United States would account for 30 per cent of aggregate demand. “There’s no doubt recycling has its place but it isn’t the cheap process or the profit generator everyone talked about it being,” Cameron said.

While all four quarry professionals viewed the industry’s evolution from slightly different stand points, they were mostly in sync on a range of issues and topics. For one, they were in agreement that, to quote Steggles, “safety is one of the great areas that changed quarry operations in the past 30 years”.

“Many of the changes reflect the expectation within communities and government that people who go to
work should come home unharmed,” Steggles said.

Cameron agreed that one of the industry’s biggest successes has been making occupational health and safety front of mind. “We have had fewer fatalities and better standards in the quarry industry than in mining within Australia on a head for head count,” he said. {{image3-A:L-w:250}}

Cooper added that the focus on the industry’s safety performance was more sophisticated. “Comprehensive safety management systems, operator competency assessments, site traffic management, inductions, fitness for duty and high risk activity permits – none existed in 1984,” he stated. “The administrative and compliance demands on today’s management are
more intensive.”

Goodsir, who, for the past 30 years, has had significant input on safety provisions as an IQA representative on industry bodies that consulted with government departments and other statutory bodies, agreed that the OHS requirements of today’s quarry professionals have increased exponentially since the 1980s.

“When I did my manager’s certificate, we had a 20mm thick book to study,” he said. “The amount of legislation the guys have to learn now involves no less than seven Acts and regulations from several levels of government.”

Similarly, as OHS legislative requirements have increased, so has the need for qualifications. Through his involvement on advisory panels, Goodsir has encouraged compatibility between jurisdictions.

Today, thanks to bodies like the IQA and SkillsDMC working with state mining departments, mine and quarry personnel’s qualifications are more portable. However, a key element of being a good manager, Goodsir stressed, is communication.

“Companies want their managers to be good technical people but they have been less concerned about associated non-technical skills,” Goodsir said. “You can learn all the technical stuff under the sun but if you can’t communicate with your employees and motivate them, you will have accidents, even with the safest equipment. It’s changing now because we pushed governments to put it on the agenda.”

Goodsir added that education and training is integral to retaining good staff. “The industry isn’t considered sexy,” he said. “We had major problems in retaining people when mining was booming and we still don’t have enough quarry managers because the legislation requires more certified professionals. We certainly can’t settle for having second rate managers if we are going to walk the talk and have safe operations.”

OHS is inextricably linked with other quarrying improvements and the four quarrymen were extremely impressed at huge advancements in quarry technologies.

“There are far less people involved with larger equipment and remote-controlled operations today,” Goodsir remarked. “I managed one of Australia’s largest quarries for four years and we had 100 people. Operations have far less than that now and quite often use contractors, not employees.

“We had 35-tonne dump trucks back then, now they have 85-tonners,” he compared. “Where more people were once required in the plant, now they have television cameras. In the early ’80s our company introduced the first programmable logic system in quarries, where the whole operation was managed remotely from the control room.”

Goodsir recalled that mobile crushing and screening was also scarce. “Thirty years ago, everything was done by static plant. I remember going overseas for equipment and coming back with the suggestion that we use a mobile impact crusher and everybody said, ‘You’re kidding, we couldn’t do that'.”

Some of the biggest advances have been in blasting, both in electronic initiation and environmental monitoring. “Thirty years ago,” Cameron recalled, “there were no bulk explosives used in quarries, it was all package explosives. You had a very small diameter of blast holes and very small shots that frequently created safety issues, flyrock, ground vibration and air blast overpressure nuisance for the community.

“In quarries today, blasting is a bulk explosive business that’s allowed the industry to do bigger shots and use laser profiling and bore tracking in the design of the blast patterns to minimise blast impacts. There’s also use of electronic detonators which allows controlled noise and vibration management, together with a lot of innovative technology which has gone into computer-aided design (CAD) and predictive modelling.” {{image4-A:R-w:300}}

Goodsir, who also worked for Orica, echoed Cameron’s comments. “Laser profiling and bore tracking saved many operations environmentally and safety wise,” he explained. “Now the drill rig’s computer can be linked to this technology. It is on such a professional level now whereas we used to drop a tape over the face to measure the hole depth or where the face was undercut – a dangerous practice. Laser profiling can do that more accurately, quickly and safely.”

Steggles agreed blast technology changes have been amongst the most dramatic in his time. “If we look at quarry technology in the context of design and rehabilitation, we’ve had significant advancement in extraction processing, movement of material, heavy plant and equipment, screen media, engine development, fuel and the whole energy space.

“The end product hasn’t changed but new technologies in safety and the environment are the eye-openers. The use of information technology and software through to remote-controlled aerial vehicles (RAVs) has been extraordinary. Radar, ROPS and FOPS design, camera use, proximity devices, control mechanisms in the production line, online weather stations and monitoring devices, data downloads – it all shows how much the IT space interacts with so many aspects of quarrying.”

Cooper has been impressed by these advancements, particularly the role of finite element analysis and CAD in process equipment. “In crushers, more sophisticated design tools have led to leaner mechanical designs, equalling less tonnes of steel and lower safety factors required against structural fatigue, but promised more power and higher productivity.

“Process flow analysis tools like Aggflow, Bruno and Plant Designer allow engineers and management to test proposed process changes and improvements in simulations of their plants and to develop greenfield designs for new plants and processes,” he added. “The emergence of RAVs with high resolution photography and 3D imaging has replaced traditional, and expensive, aerial photography and stereoscopic calculations of stockpile volumes. There is now even an iPhone app that enables you to walk around the pile, take photos and calculate stockpile volumes.”

All of these advancements have improved the industry in subtle, as well as radical, ways. Compared to 1984, it is clear that in 2014 nearly every aspect of the quarrying process can now be implemented in more efficient, productive ways. As Steggles reflected at the beginning of this feature, clearly more has changed over time than he thought was immediately evident on the surface. 

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