Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Iron Ore What

Having moved to the Rio Tinto family 6 weeks back from MineSight it was time to get my feet wet and go and visit one of the sites. This would be a great way to see how RTIO (Rio Tinto Iron Ore) do things, from a geology, systems and mining point of view. The trip I managed to piggy back on was to the Brockman 4 mine, about 60km from Tom Price in the WA Pilbara region.

The trip started on Tuesday afternoon after a normal work day with a flight from Perth to Paraburdoo on a Network Aviation plane operated by Qantas. Fortunately this isn't a particularly long flight and we checked in to the Rocklea Palms camp in town around 630. Then it was dinner and bed before heading to the mine the next day.

We left camp, picked up one of the Technical Assurance team members (3 from that group and me from the Geology Systems department in the travel group) in Paraburdoo and then had the drive to Brockman 4. This takes you through Tom Price, a lot of rolling landscape and some beautiful country. You just need to be aware of cattle and kangaroos. And 150 kilometres later we were there.

Through the boom gates, past a fully loaded train waiting to depart, and then arriving at the mine offices and in to meet the geology team. The trip itself was actually so the TA group and the mine geologists could all get on the same page for a project to be implemented over the summer. This allowed everyone to get on the same page and share knowledge and thoughts. This certainly helped me with my understanding of the RTIO mine geology work practices and also allowed me to see how the systems could potentially be improved as well.

The day was spent going through the processes involved for all stakeholders in the new processes to be brought in on site. Commitments and reassurances from the different groups (the implementation as well as the geology and management divisions). This then led on to a more informal geology meeting where specific examples were discussed and information gathered so that the tools in use could be improved, both software and manual steps taken. This allowed for the technical difficulties to be better discussed and understood by all which will allow for a much greater success margin in the future. So after a hard days talking and learning it was time to head back to camp and enjoy a bbq dinner put on for an informal team building exercise. 

Thursday was shift change day and we were down a team member for the day due to illness. Prior to heading up to site I had been in contact with the metallurgists in order to get a look around the LGPP (a pilot plant to see how different iron ore materials go through the separation process before being stockpiled and transported to the customers), so this was first on our mornings agenda. It may not have been the full sized plant, but it had all the same parts and processes. A tour of the plant for an hour was very informative and allowed us to see the basic process of the ore separation, from removing the lump product to separating the fines through a flotation tank.

The rest of the day was spent with both geology and sampling teams to convey more information relating to the project. For me this started with actually meeting the other half of the crew, then absorbing a handover. I haven't had to do one for most of a decade now, but those I've seen since all follow the same basic formula. There's still some frantic note passing, a pit tour and the zoning in and out of the new and old crew. I just made sure I kept out of the way.

By the time the old crew flew out and we had a few minutes with the new crew, it was home time for the day. This let the new guys get on with their work while we went and relaxed. So I figured an 8km run was a good thing. I won't complain about it being 35 degrees after what Sunday was for those who were competing in the Mandurah Half, but then I haven't been doing any training of late either. That's just starting.

Friday was our fly out day. And almost as good was the chance to get down into the pit and see what was going on, play with some rocks and pretend to be a geo again for just a little bit. The Brockman 4 deposit has a multi decade mine life and it's still very early days in the mining cycle. That said there are already 5 separate pits being mined and some of these will merge together over time.

The geology of the area is actually pretty interesting (if you like that sort of thing) and of importance to all the mining companies and mines in the Pilbara is the stratigraphic sequence and where you are in them. There are several marker horizons that show through the Brockman 4 pits that are easily discernible and match up with many other pits in the Pilbara. So I got a little bit of a geology talk while we were in the pit as did the new geos from one of the more experienced Pilbara geologists who was in the car with us. Plus we looked at some faces, watched a little bit of mining and got out and played with some of the rocks in an area away from the trucks. The rest of the morning was a little more serious and similar to the first day on site, but the morning was certainly interesting (and fun).

Then the drive back to Paraburdoo for the flight back to Perth in the evening. The drive was certainly a little more subdued compared to the drive in to site, but I think that is normal. We were comparing it to heading home after a holiday, everyone's a little tired and worn out. So through the metal detectors and board a Skywest plane operated by Virgin. But then they did buy them out for the mining contracts in the not too distant past.

Overall it was a good trip. The chance to see how the site processes work in a production environment was really informative and the LGPP was an interesting place to wander around as well. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi ! I am Nita. I am a professional budding writer of India. I am working on a Novel and one of the character of my Novel is a women Geologist of Australia. But I have limited knowledge of geology and I want her to be in Pilbara , Australia , where you have been as that has a soil similar to Mars . My book is on candidates who applied for Mars. Can you please help me in this by giving me a detailed version of your trip ? I have read your article but i need more details.