Robotic Replacement expands in Australia
I spend a lot of time analysing either the stories with the most content or with the most positive or negative impact. Some categories don’t get the coverage in terms of either content or impact that they deserve.
Although it only had two stories for the month of April the indicator Augment(ation), which tracks all things to do with work augmentation, automation and robotic replacement was the category with the most impact.
The first story was the announcement that Hitachi will commence trailing automated trucks at the Meandu coal mine in the between the Sunshine Coast and Wide Bay Burnett regions of Queensland (just 2-hours north-west of Brisbane). The first three EH5000 AC trucks were expected to arrive by the end of April with Stanwell running trails over the next three-years. This is also the first real robotic replacement deployment in Queensland within range of the most extensive coal deposits in Australia (the Bowen and Galilee Basins) and is an ideal recce for Hitachi who has plans to develop more autonomous equipment to the surface mining industry by 2017 (as some of the larger projects in Queensland come on-line).
The second story was a robotics replacement milestone reached in Western Australia. Rio Tinto announced that its driverless trucks had now moved more than 100-million tonnes from its West Angelas, Yandicoogina, and more recently the Nammuldi operations. That’s almost double the amount Rio moved when it featured on the 7.30 Report (21 Feb 2012) stating it had moved 57-million tonnes.
All of this as BIS Shrapnel revised its engineering and construction numbers down from its 2012 report, stating that the nadir will commence from 2014 and not 2015. Mining doesn’t employee big numbers compared to other sectors when in its operations phase, it does however employee big exciting numbers during its infrastructure phase (which is currently still ongoing). Anecdotally, I had a conversation with a colleague who runs a Job Services Australia office who told me that the only ‘tradie’ (Australian slang for construction worker) he has seen since 2008 are those who have lost their license.
For the third consecutive month Employment was the leading category with 27-stories (32.9%) more on job cutting than employment creation this month. WH&S (Work Health & Safety) followed with 22-stories (26.8%) while IR (Industrial Relations) finished third with 9-stories (11%) after a quiet March.
No stories were recorded for AOD/Crime (Alcohol & Other Drugs) or SkillsShort (Skills Shortages) in April.
With one positive and seven negative stories WH&S, at minus 6 was the most negative indicator for April. The articles included at least four significant injuries and another site-death; this time of a contractor who collapsed at the Wesfarmers owned Curragh Coal Mine.
After six positive stories, L&D/R&D (Learning & Development/Research & Development) finished as the most positive with plus 6, the best monthly positive indicator for the first four months of 2013. The stories included the mining industry detailing its $1.15Bn (AUD) spend on training over the past two years, updates on two new mining training facilities and the donation by the New Gold Peak Mine of a $100,000 dollar underground loader to Western Dubbo TAFE.
On that story, I wonder if I’ll be recording a negative input next year as Western Dubbo TAFE realises no CAPEX spend but several thousand dollars in ongoing maintenance and WH&S implementation costs.
Mining Employment Gains & Losses
Although April saw another good set of employment numbers discussed there was also a loss of both actual and prospective positions headlined by Arafura Resources which pulled out of its proposed Whyalla Rare Earths processing plant. This development may have delivered 1,000 jobs and $1-billion in economic development to the South Australian economy.
On the positive side Rio Tinto Alcan talked up the prospects of building its bauxite mine near Weipa later this year (950 construction workers during infrastructure phase, with 1,346 total employees including contractors forecast for operations) and Gindalbie opening its Karara iron ore project (500 operation jobs).
Technical note: I have updated the February employment numbers, shifting 400 from February to April as NRW Holdings announced the signing of works on the Nummuldi iron ore mine. Overall the project was forecast to employ 1,500 during the infrastructure phase.
Here’s a look at the April data.
Story of the Month
Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) announced this month that it would be replacing its ‘spread-sheet’ system of rostering (and managing labour costs no doubt) with Microster with the implementation to be managed by ComOps.
FMG owes around $12.6-billion dollars (roughly 4.7% of Australia’s Total Commonwealth Government Securities on Issue) and employs more than 2000 employees and is managing its labour by the manual manipulation of ‘Busted Ass Spread Sheets’ (BASS).
Hard to believe, but true.
I choose the term ‘robotic replacement’ with the full knowledge that many are uncomfortable with the term. It should be noted that both stories mentioned in the introduction either emphasise safety or integration with employees while avoiding the subject of technological replacement of human workers or even peak mining employment.
It’s a common stratagem of lots of organisations when dealing with problematic issues.
Yet, we are beyond imaging what the mine of the future is as it is already here and being deployed more progressively as each year passes. Western Australian and Queensland deployments this year, no doubt New South Wales or the Northern Territory next.
Australians are just going to have to get used to the gradual transition to the mine of the future. That future is one which is largely operated by robotics and technology by a limited number of highly skilled personnel, potentially from any point on the globe.
Note: My previous post on Mining Workforce Planning Scans can be found at Random Analytics: Mining Workforce Planning
Scan (Mar 2013)