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Innovation a key to the quarrying industry


Eltirus (f.k.a Cement & Aggregate Consulting) founder Steve Franklin discusses how to get ahead in the quarrying industry using innovation and automation – tools he became familiar with after some time in the mining industry. 

In June 1882, two prospectors, Bayley and Ford, picked up 2.5 kg of gold they found lying on the ground in what we now know as Coolgardie. After staking their claim, they then found a further 17 kg and the rest is history – the Coolgardie-Kalgoorlie region has been one of the best performing gold fields on the planet for over a hundred years.

Unfortunately there are only so many “easy” deposits and as these were worked out, better technologies were needed to develop and extract more difficult deposits.

I worked in the gold industry in this region for most of the 1990’s and it never ceased to amaze me at how fast the pace of innovation was that drove companies to be able to take on old workings and make money out of them through better technology and practices.

As the Operations Manager responsible for a particularly difficult operation in Leonora, I made the then “completely unnecessary” step of hiring a mine scheduling engineer to help us control the sequencing of extraction. This was a very new idea then and one met with significant resistance by my employers.

Interestingly, the employment of the mine scheduler and working to his plan, turned around the operation and we started to make money out of it. It wasn’t that we didn’t have good people or equipment up until that time, we just needed a better plan.

It was a salutary lesson to me at the time and one that I employed many times after that to good effect, but what has any of this got to do with quarrying?

The mining industry in Australia, particularly iron ore in WA, is probably the most high tech, smartest mining in the world. It is VERY impressive.

It’s easy to think that they can afford luxuries such as autonomous equipment and the like because the commodity price is so high, but this is to completely miss the point that they could have sat back and became “fat and lazy”, they didn’t. Despite a naturally conservative viewpoint, these companies have made innovation a key strategy and employed it rigorously to tremendous effect.

As deposits became more difficult to extract, they adopted better and better technology to make them viable and make a superior return to shareholders. Those same companies are now at the forefront of sustainability improvement – battery powered locomotives, hydrogen powered trucks etc – not as a gimmick or PR stunt, but because they know that these technologies will further drive down costs (and make them better corporate citizens at the same time).

In contrast, a recent industry report on the Australian quarry industry noted that the “Technical disruption in the industry is relatively low…” Why the difference?

In a recent article in the AFR (14 Mar 2022) Boral CEO Zlatko Todorcevski is quoted as saying “I’ve had conversations with Kerry (Stokes). I regularly talk to Ryan… and I think what I am seeing is complete alignment, they believe the hidden gem is in Australia.”

We think that this is correct and that the “hidden gem” is the gains that are going to come from whoever is first to the party to truly commit to sustainability improvement through digital transformation, the gains of which are substantial and enduring.

Innovation is part of our company’s DNA. Since our inception in late 2016 we have been at the forefront of research into improving quarry sustainability and reducing operating costs through digital transformation and have a well-taped, proven path to success.

Given this heritage we are very proud to be the sponsor of the IQA Excellence in Innovation and Community Engagement award. The 63rd National IQA Conference is only days away and we are counting down the days until we are able to catch-up with colleagues and clients from across the country and award the winner for their vision and a job well done.

I will be presenting a paper on The path to autonomous machine operation in the quarry industry at 9:45am on Thursday the 31st of March and you can join us at the award presentations at 1:35pm

As a final note, this month, Cement & Aggregate Consulting changed its name to Eltirus. Please take a look at our new website to find out more and we look forward to seeing you at the conference and at exhibitor stand 32.

Steve Franklin

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