Smart Mining Networking Event Review: Paul Flynn, CEO & MD, Whitehaven Coal
Whitehaven Coal – Advancing New Technology
Austmine was excited to be joined by Paul Flynn, CEO & MD at Whitehaven Coal for our recent Smart Mining Networking Event in Sydney. Paul has overseen a period of significant growth for Whitehaven, quadrupling the production output of the business to its now 23mtpa scale, making it the largest independent ASX listed coal company.
Paul’s presentation was titled ‘Whitehaven Coal – Advancing New Technology’ and he discussed Whitehaven’s innovation strategy and the drivers for the implementation of new technology. He also provided examples of key innovation projects such as their Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) at Maules Creek and horizontal control automation at the Narrabri longwall.
Paul began by explaining that Whitehaven Coal has positioned itself in the market as an early adopter for innovation. They don’t have the resources to be a generator of innovation like the global mining powerhouses, but they carefully survey the market and seek out advanced solutions that will work for their operations. Innovation has to be part of the everyday life at Whitehaven as they are one of the furthest from the port in Newcastle, meaning they have an immediate disadvantage on logistics costs against competitors. Innovation is a strategy utilised to bridge this gap. The AHS is the first coal mine to implement such technology and shows Whitehaven’s pursuit of being an early adopter.
The various innovation initiatives at Whitehaven’s sites were discussed, beginning with the Narrabri underground longwall mine. An automated system was deployed in 2012 during a major ramp up of production at the site and it originally ran into teething problems. However, these have been worked through and production has now exceeded original design capacity. The automated longwall system is utilised to control coal quality by elevating the shearer off the floor to access the higher quality coal seams that contain less ash. Quality management has improved dramatically and is starkly contrasted to manual mode, whilst shearer cycling times have plummeted and people have been taken out of danger.
Maules Creek has seen a range of exciting innovations, including the use of drones for surveying. These have captured high resolution photos to replace lengthy manual surveys of the pit and have also been utilised to help reconcile production during stockpile management. The drone can survey the entire mine and dumps in 8 hours, creating the safety and productivity benefit of removing surveyors from the line of fire and preventing production delays.
Paul then discussed their highly anticipated AHS, which is the first of its kind for coal mining. When the Hitachi EH5000 300t class trucks and EX8000 800t class excavators were purchased for the mine, they were done so because they could be retro-fitted when automation was ready to arrive. They also have state of the art sound attenuated technology due to the close proximity of Maules Creek to neighbouring communities.
Whitehaven Coal undertook the AHS project with safety front and centre of their strategy, providing greater predictability of truck routes compared to manual operations and taking drivers out from danger. The other major benefits include increased production from streamlined haulage, improved fuel consumption (especially critical given diesel has risen $3 per year), decreased tyre wear and reduced maintenance costs.
The critical question arising with this technology is what about the people? There are 200 people currently devoted to truck driving at Maules Creek who will need to transition once the AHS is fully installed. Whitehaven have thought ahead with this and coincided the AHS project with the ramp-up of the nearby Vickery operations. If workers would like positions at this ramp up, Whitehaven will be re-skilling and re-training to fill these opportunities.
This new fleet will initially operate in a separate part of the Maules Creek mine to the manned trucks to reduce equipment interaction while the system is established. Once the project is deemed to be successful, the AHS will be rolled out to the full open cut operation and the remaining fleet incrementally upgraded.
Paul finished by re-iterating that Whitehaven Coal is a keen adopter of innovation and their drivers for this are safety and the logistical disadvantage of their mine site. Such innovations of interest include rail projects such as autonomous haulage, similar to the model in WA, and greater utilisation of the current system.
With a forward-thinking leader like Paul at the helm of Whitehaven Coal, exciting times lie ahead for Australia’s largest independent ASX listed coal company.