John Pala, managing director, Palaris Mining
Palaris Mining offers services in a number of specialist areas such as exploration and geology, engineering and maintenance, mining operations, project management and corporate services.
In canvassing Palaris team members for their views on the biggest issue facing Australian longwall mines the following key areas were identified:
- Effective teamwork across longwall crews – developing and maintaining consistency of approach across all shifts;
- Acceptance of ongoing issues with equipment performance – systematically identifying and addressing issues, many of the same issues keep coming up;
- Training of all levels;
- Introduction and routine use of automation;
- Development of front line supervisors;
- Effective longwall organisational structure;
- Development performance not keeping up with longwall advances; and
- Effective use of data collation and use of data in effective monitoring and decision making.
The responses reflect a broader industry concern that the greatest issue/opportunity relates more so to people than to equipment or conditions.
The total cost of a new longwall can be $150–200 million with only a very small proportion of this spent on the people expected to run it and get the best from the investment. What if Qantas did this with its planes? The cost of a new jumbo jet is comparable to a new longwall. A Qantas pilot earns (on average) a similar income to most of our front line supervisors. At Qantas a typical entry criterion is for the applicant to have been an RAAF pilot for five to six years. Before flying a commercial airliner that person spends a minimum of six months in training – this is a mix of classroom and flight simulator.
Once someone qualifies as a pilot they are in for a lifetime of refresher training. A minimum of five hours per month is spent in refresher training. This is typically in a simulator. All time spent in a simulator is overseen by an instructor. Those appointed as instructors come from the ranks of high-level captains – the best of the best.
There are many other aspects of a “Qantas model” that can be extended to an underground longwall operation.
Getting the best out of people requires effective organisation, competent (and motivated) people and robust systems.
Capital equipment in longwalls has high levels of redundancy. In general, much of the equipment currently installed operates significantly below its nameplate capacity. A 4000 tonne per hour longwall could hypothetically produce 34.9 million tonnes per annum. Even the best Australian longwall operation is performing at around 20% of nominal nameplate capacity. Future improvements through capital equipment will result in ever-diminishing returns on investment.
Harnessing the opportunities provided through people can be done with far less cost and with much greater potential for upside.
Over the years the industry has demonstrated a great willingness and ability to embrace a number of watershed changes in equipment capacities and technology, sustained improvements in safety and environmental practices as well as major advances in strata management systems.
We can be confident that the opportunity for improvements through our people will not be missed.