Underground contractors in the mining industry must be prepared to take a position at the forefront of innovation of equipment and work methods in order to maintain a competitive advantage over in-house operations and remain relevant. Innovative concepts such as split-feed development jumbos, high capacity trucks and loader guidance systems were implemented by contractors to stay ahead of ‘the pack'. All of these are now common across the industry.
The demands of regular participation in competitive tendering coupled with aggressive fleet depreciation, means contractors tend to have more communication and opportunities to work with equipment suppliers than mine owners. Therefore, they are more likely to influence equipment design and product directions. They also have a unique opportunity to assist in trialling new concepts and technologies across a wide variety of operating conditions rather than being restricted to one mine.
In addition, as a ‘guest' on a mine site, mining contractors do not have the luxury of creating the environment for their preferred systems, rather they must have the capacity to adapt their technology to suit the offered environment at a particular mine. This leads to a pursuit of adaptive technologies that can be implemented selectively and seamlessly without excessive disturbance rather than ‘all-of-mine' systems. These incremental innovations then become available for use across the mining industry where they can add value as ‘bolt-on systems' to existing operations.
Mining contractors, therefore, act as the bellwether for industry practices and equipment. However, in order to maintain their position they must engage industry stakeholders to deliver practical, innovative and cost-effective technologies that add value and result in an improved bottom line for all. This paper uses case study material to illustrate how the Byrnecut Group has approached innovation and how the theory of Disruptive Technology applies to underground mining innovation.
Kilkenny, D, 2017. Innovation in mining – a contractor's role, in Proceedings 13th AusIMM Underground Operators' Conference 2017, pp 59–68 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).