At the last Mine Site Automation & Communication conference in Brisbane in April I had the chance to talk to Stephanie Millard, Remote Operations Manager at Thiess, and Jeremy Bliss, Technology Operations Manager at Thiess. Stephanie and Jeremy talked about exciting Automation technologies and current challenges.
Mining IQ: Hi Stephanie and Jeremy, could you please introduce yourself, and talk a bit about your role and how you’re involved in the field of automation?
Stephanie Millard: So, my name’s Stephanie Millard. I’m the remote operations manager for Thiess. My primary focus, or role, is to manage our in-house production system, with a strong focus on actually delivering information for the people on-site, as well as our leadership team. So a strong focus on reporting, training, analytics.
Jeremy Bliss: I’m Jeremy Bliss. I’m the technology operations manager for Thiess mining. My primary role is to implement the solutions that we have, with the technology. And ensure that our sites are using the guidelines and procedures set by either the suppliers, the manufacturers, or even our in-house departments. And then try and apply that to the best of our ability; to improve productivities and efficiencies.
Mining IQ: Thank you. So, what do you think is the most exciting technology in automation right now, or the most exciting development?
Jeremy Bliss: Automation, actually, the collecting of real data is definitely exciting, if we learn to take that data and apply it properly. We can get massive productivity increases. When it comes to the next step of autonomy, it’s great to see that people are working on it. I haven’t seen any real examples just yet, but I’m looking forward to that part.
Stephanie Millard: I think there’s been some exciting presentations in this conference, particularly around CRC Mining’s presentation on auto load and shield protection of the tracks and trucks. As well as, CSIRO’s continuous mining system. Certainly, we haven’t seen as much minimal human input automation for open pit, but, it’s certainly really exciting, seeing some of those developments.
Mining IQ: Okay. And what do you think are the biggest challenges, in automation?
Stephanie Millard: A lot of it is infrastructure, I suppose. I believe on most of our sites, it’s in the ruggedness of all the technology. Trying to actually make that, transfer it into a lot of our environments, and do it on a large scale. In a way that we feel is reliable enough for us to completely commit to it as an alternative.
Jeremy Bliss: I think it’s change. First of all, getting a small result, and if we can then show the users, and the senior managers, that they have actually lifted productivity, or increased efficiency. They’d be more willing to accept further change. But at the moment, if you implement a system, and then you just throw it back at them, there’s such a big step change in the current process.… It’s too much for any one person to cope with. So, little changes, or little steps at a time. And you’ll get the overall change that you want.
Stephanie Millard: Definitely agree. And, a common theme that’s come up. And it’s really great to see all the other companies are trying to tackle the same challenges as us. Is very much around trying to engage the workforce and those front line operators, who are going to use the technology. I think that is one of the biggest challenges there, certainly.
Mining IQ: And, do you think that the industry’s still supportive enough of research and development, in the field of automation innovations?
Jeremy Bliss: The regulators of industry, I think, are definitely looking at it, in terms of safety. That’s on top of everyone’s mind. If we can prove these systems are safer, yes, it’s definitely going to get, oh, what’s the word? It’s going to get encouraged by those sorts of people.
Mining IQ: And, what do you think can be gained by attending such a conference? You said that you’ve been very positive so far, so what do you think is beneficial for you?
Stephanie Millard: And so it’s, like I said before, it’s, I suppose it’s understanding the challenges that everyone else is experiencing, and realising that you’re not the only person trying to work through them. But yes, it’s probably, certainly the networking element of it. Some of the discussions around the new technology coming out, I think something like that’s fantastic. I think the space that I’d love to see in the future, is more around actually using the information for the improvement of business rather than the technical implementation side as much. But, it’s been really, very interesting.