Thursday, 3 December 2020
St Barbara: Networking Event Write Up

St Barbara: Networking Event Write Up

On Thursday 20th October, Austmine was delighted to be joined by Stean Barrie, General Manager Technical Services at St Barbara in Brisbane, at our final Smart Mining Networking event of the year. In his role, Stean oversees teams who provide operational support for both the Leonora Operation (which includes their fantastic Gwalia project) in Western Australia and the Simberi Operation in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

FY16 was a fantastic year for St Barbara, with records accomplished in safety levels, production levels and costs. Stean kicked off his presentation to an audience of seventy individuals from mining, METS and research by acknowledging that innovation had a big part to play in this important year of success. Their achievements were underpinned by a company culture that embraces continuous improvement and a leadership team that is driven by the desire to innovate and add value to the sector as a whole.

Safety is a big focus for the sector and this is no different at St Barbara where it’s a critical aspect of how they do business. Stean commented that they have seen continued improvements on the safety trends across their operations, but as it is a lag indicator they really focus on the leadership aspects of safety. Particularly when production levels on operating mines are significantly increasing, Stean noted it is important to keep their eye on safety concurrently. In addition to their safety performance monitoring internally, the company has been acknowledged externally with St Barbara emergency response teams winning competitions in both WA and PNG in the last twelve months.

As mentioned by Stean at the outset of his talk, he attributed much of St Barbara’s record year to their embracing of innovation and he went on to identify three key innovations at their Gwalia mine in Western Australia that had delivered them significant improvements.

Firstly, they installed ore passes, which allows the bogger to work constantly, independent of ore trucks. This means they remove the ore from fired stopes more rapidly, allowing paste-filling and adjacent stopes to be fired earlier. Secondly, they created the capability for continuous remote tele-bogging so at critical times the bogger now operates 24 hours a day. Lastly, they have built in underground storages for waste, which has reduced waste removal turnaround times and provided greater truck availability for ore removal to the surface. Gwalia has seen an 8% improvement in production levels over the last twelve months thanks to these innovations and the mine is firmly committed to a continuous focus on innovation moving forward.

St Barbara’s approach for improvement at Simberi, their operation in PNG, was different, due to the ore being a lower grade. Firstly, the company had to guarantee a processing facility and then they commissioned ball and SAG mills. The focus then turned to the mine, to ensure it was supplying the processing facility with the required ore to achieve the needed profile of ore. Their efforts have been rewarded with two years in a row (FY15 and FY16) of greater than 50% improvement in production.

Exploration at both Gwalia and Simberi are important elements in defining the future of both assets and the growth of St Barbara, a company passionate about organic and inorganic growth. Stean commented that they are using seismic reflection exploration technology at Gwalia; a technology which has been used by other gold miners in WA to success.

Stean moved on to talk about the company’s commitment to business improvement, which has been formalised internally as a critical part of doing business. They divide business improvement into two groupings:

•       Large, life impacting projects

•       Small incremental projects impacting safety and performance

Stean ran the group through a couple of great examples where St Barbara has implemented projects that have had important impacts on the bottom line. Gwalia’s underground air cooling system is one such case study, where they utilise waste heat from the power station generator to provide energy in an absorption process to reduce the temperature of chilled water. Gwalia is an incredibly deep mine and the future of the mine going deeper is reliant upon their ability to ventilate underground. Moving and cooling the air in a deep, hot mine, is of course critical. When considering Gwalia’s plans for going deeper, ventilation and materials handling at depth were the key constraints to mining the deeper ore. Stean mentioned that in their pre-feasibility study, trucks still came back as the best option for material handling and final investment decisions from the project scoping around ventilation fans, systems and ducting are pending in the next quarter.

Other, smaller business improvement projects St Barbara have undertaken at Gwalia included: ventilation fan cleaning scaffolding changes (construction and removal of scaffolding reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes by a single person); process plant calibration upgrade; wear life mill discharge pump upgrade ($300k per annum saved in maintenance costs); processing plant monitoring and control system installed that informs people on site about what’s happening around the plan, flags key trends and enables workers to make informed, data-driven decisions.

Meanwhile at Simberi, they have brought in an intensive focus on improved maintenance to deliver operational benefits. This was largely driven by the vastly different skills and culture of the employees in PNG, where the teams needed to be shifted from a reactive to proactive maintenance culture. Across all operational assets, they achieved a trend of decreased downtime, which helps to ensure asset integrity for the operation. The ore delivery system at Simberi is the main process that controls production and productivity. Stean talked to the audience about the rope conveyor, which is 2.7km long and takes the ore from the feeder breaker down to the overland conveyor. This was more cost effective than trucking the material down, which would have cost an additional $3 per tonne. However, the downside of the rope conveyor was the mud carry back, so St Barbara undertook numerous engineering studies to try and identify a solution. They have developed a simple and cheap solution using a scraper and ramp which removes much of the mud at the top of the rope conveyor, therefore removing the need to carry it back up! Stean commented: “It’s cheap and dirty – but it works very well!”

Stean summarised St Barbara’s exciting year as being achieved through a focus on the right stuff. Their focus for the next year ahead is to maximise production and cash flow for the company. Growth is important as is a continued embracing of both large and small continuous improvement projects across their operations. 

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Perth End of Year Networking Event

Location: The Aviary, Level 1, 140 William St, Perth

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Newcastle End of Year Networking Event [EVENT FULL]

Location: Lake Macquarie Yacht Club, Ada Street, Belmont NSW, Australia

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