RCT recognised by miningbusiness.net for Utah project

August 2, 2013

The massive landslip that dumped 128M cubic yards of rock and dirt across the floor of Kennecott Utah Copper’s Bingham Canyon mine in Utah, USA four months ago spelled opportunity for Australian automation and control solutions company Remote Control Technologies.

From just about the other side of the world, in Perth, Western Australia, RCT was able to outdo the local suppliers in setting up three remote-controlled D8T dozers to work alongside the heavier machines as part of the massive and ongoing task of cleaning up and re-establishing the working areas of the copper mine.

The recovery effort at the mine, the world’s largest man-made excavation at 4km wide and 1.2km deep, is likely to take many more months, but the speed and efficiency of the efforts to date are highly impressive.

Kennecott, a wholly owned subsidiary of global miner Rio Tinto, had been prepared for problems at the mine after its advanced Italian-made IDS slope monitoring radar alerted it to accelerated movement on the pit’s NE wall for several weeks beforehand.

The company had taken pre-emptive measures to relocate facilities and roads.

All employees were safely out of the area when the slip occurred about 9.30pm local time.

However, the estimated 165M tons of rock that was spilled across the pit floor – NASA’s Earth Observatory describes it as the largest non-volcanic rock avalanche in the history of North America – buried a primary access road, work areas and buried or damaged large numbers of machines.

Kennecott spokesman Kyle Bennett told local media immediately afterwards that three of the mine’s 13 shovels and 14 of its 100 haul trucks had been damaged, along with a few graders and dozers that were in the pit.

The most critical issue for the company was the safety of its employees, which dictated that the earthmoving fleet that had to be assembled for the massive rehabilitation effort must be remotely controlled.

Which is where Remote Controlled Technologies came into the picture.

Offering Assistance

RCT senior business development manager Phil Goode said the company was on the phone to Kennecott immediately it heard about the incident offering assistance with remote controlled equipment.

The company has been developing automation and control systems for the mining and industrial sectors for over 41 years, including a great deal of work for the Rio Tinto group. It learned that the mine would be using Cat tracked dozers supplied by Utah Caterpillar dealer Wheeler Mining Systems.

The super-heavyweight D11 and D10 models would be responsible for the bulk of the work but the lighter D8T models were needed for more detailed work such as cleaning up the mining bench areas and where access was limited.

While Wheeler could supply the big machines with Cat’s own remote control systems, however, they were not available for the D8Ts.

That was no problem for RCT, which has been working with Cat machines for all of its 41 years.

There was just the question, then, of how a company from Western Australia could match on-the-spot suppliers in one of America’s most advanced mining markets. The company’s MD, Bob Muirhead, had the answer: “Whatever it takes”.

RCT designed and manufactured three dozer remote interfaces and four remote kits, complete with spare remotes and support parts, completed all the necessary documentation and delivered the equipment to Utah – all within three weeks, less than a third of the normal deployment time for such a big task.

But world-best technology is readily available in America, so that wasn’t the only benefit offered by the Australian company.

On-site Training

Two RCT specialists spent a further three weeks on site, 30km SW of Salt Lake City, to carry out the installation and commissioning of the equipment and provide comprehensive on-site training for the machine operators and the Cat dealer’s technical staff.

“Our technology is world best, but we’re not alone in that,” Goode said. “Our delivery, implementation and support is what sets us apart from most other suppliers.”

The purpose of the training was to equip Wheeler and the mine’s operators with the skills necessary to clear the landslide in the safest possible manner.

Wheeler Construction and Mining Technology general manager Greg Evans was impressed.

“It was easy to work with the RCT team,” he said. “The implementation went seamlessly and they were keen to share their knowledge and experience during the training, making us feel confident with the operation of the equipment.”

Rio Tinto estimated soon after the slip that it would lose 100,000t of refined copper output as a result – the Bingham Canyon mine produced 163,200t of copper and 200,000oz of gold in 2012 – but the recovery exercise has since been able to “save” some 25,000t of the forecast loss. And the use of the remote controlled machines has gone so well that the mine management is now contemplating retaining the RCT-equipped dozers after the clean-up is eventually completed, refitting them with normal material blades as part of their production fleet.

Meanwhile, RCT is recognising the Bingham Canyon exercise as a beach-head for growing its market in the US.

Although the company has assisted companies in over 60 countries with solutions for higher productivity and safety, and a number of clients in the US use its products, it has not previously undertaken any significant automation projects there.