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Sustainability improvement via digital transformation


Steve Franklin, the Principal Consultant for Cement & Aggregate Consulting (aka Cemagg), based in Brisbane, says that quarries must prepare for the impending wave of digital transformation.

Has the pandemic changed how Cemagg works with the quarrying industry?

In general, no, we’ve worked on projects from Tasmania to Far North Queensland across to New Zealand. We set up our business for remote working from day one and empowered our clients to work with us remotely. Our staff can work securely anywhere and interact with all of our clients.

What digital transformation challenges await quarries in the next three years?

The quarrying industry hasn’t had a large focus on technology, which makes it difficult to attract new skilled people. We see some smart, tech-savvy people coming through, however, who are starting to make a real difference. The mining industry, with its focus on technology, is where people are going. The quarrying industry needs to portray a more technical and technological aspect to attract the sort of people we will need to bring about these valuable changes. 

Most sites lack IT bandwidth. Quarries large and small must invest in better infrastructure to improve their communications.

How can Cemagg best assist quarries with these technical issues and challenges? 

By putting better decision-making tools in the hands of people on the ground because then they’re more engaged and can make the correct choices. Cemagg came into being because in a previous mine manager role I was frustrated that there was nothing I could use for planning and I had to ask a consultant. I’d ask specific questions, and wait for an answer, and I kept wondering: “Why can’t I have the planning and geological information as a starting point for my own analysis?” So we’ve focused on pulling together technologies (geological modelling, quarry design, etc) to provide user-friendly information.

You describe Cemagg as an “outsourced technical services department”. Who do you count among your client base?

We deal with some of the smallest and largest quarrying operations in Australasia. We work for two out of the three majors, and several large industrial mineral operations. We have 12 people in our technical team, focusing solely on the quarrying and mineral materials industries. 

What is most pleasing is where we are achieving technology transfer and our clients are moving up the technology curve, eg Mawsons started out with a small-scale drone program and we worked with them to transfer that knowledge across their entire business and now into the Milbrae addition as well.

Which digital programs can assist quarries to be more efficient and productive?

There are three facets – sustainability and efficiency improvement, and cost of production reduction. You also gain better collaboration and decision-making and a reduction in costly mistakes. As one client put it: “It is better to make your mistakes on the computer than in the quarry.”

Sometimes the benefit is in the elimination of a hazard, eg by using drone face mapping and not having a geologist against the face to measure structures, you completely eliminate the hazard of a rockfall on that person. In developing this technology, we wanted to not only drone face map, we wanted the site to do it with a simple DJI drone. So we devised a method to put the flight plans on the drone remotely, have the site fly the drone, and then send that data back to our office for analysis. 

Cloud-based geotech monitoring, which consists of compact sensors mounted around the site to monitor rock movement, provides valuable insight and 24/7 monitoring of potential hazards. With direct block scheduling, we can work out what the most valuable materials are to extract and the sequence to extract them to maximise the NPV of the resource. Machine guidance ensures that loading tool operators are not digging toe (and potentially harming themselves) nor leaving behind material on the floor that needs to be re-blasted.

We’ve also worked with Trimble on a system that uploads up to date work designs onto machines remotely (rather than send the site a file by email and then have them manually install it on the machine). At Mawsons Lake Cooper, we can create a new design, have it approved by the site, it’s automatically uploaded to the machine, and the operator sees it next time he starts the machine.

What planning should quarries do to keep up with technological change?

You need to have a digital transformation strategy and put in place the communications bandwidth, the tech-savvy people and the tools to make it happen.

Does digital transformation enable quarries to reduce their Scope 1 and 2 emissions? 

We’ve identified areas in which you can reduce emissions. The first is resource optimisation work – don’t extract material that isn’t viable. That’s why our work on direct block scheduling and optimisation is important. The second is optimising your operations through systems that collect key performance indicators and provide actionable insights. Most quarries have multiple systems that don’t talk to each other. We have an agnostic system that can draw data into a cohesive, actionable platform for better decision-making. Once you have comprehensive data, it opens up tremendous opportunities for machine learning and AI.

Do you have any final words about digital transformation?

My advice is the savings are real ($0.5-$2.50/t operating cost reduction) and this approach will change your business for the better. And it can be fun! I get a buzz out of our clients reducing risk and their costs and up-skilling their team. I’m at the phase of my career of enjoying giving something back to our industry, just as I had some tremendous mentors and others guide me along the way.

To learn more about Cement & Aggregate Consulting, visit

This article appears in the ‘Industry Leaders’ edition of Quarry Magazine from January. 

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