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AusIMM Mining Society announces recipient of 3rd Year Mining Student Award

· 1700 words, 7 min read

The Mining Society are delighted to announce that the inaugural MinSoc Third Year Mining Student Award has been awarded to Guster Laufmann for his excellent submission of his vacation work report (which you can read below).

The Award directly covers the cost of a single mining subject to a maximum value of $2,000. MinSoc congratulates Guster for his efforts.

The Mining Society would like to thank all students for their submissions. We received a small number of submissions for our award and we hope to have additional submissions next year. The submissions were a delight to read and really demonstrated how much vacation employment made a difference to each of the students.

We encourage students entering third year of university to submit their vacation work reports to be eligible for the MinSoc Award next year.

1. What you learned technically

I was fortunate to spend 3 months working as a Drill and Blast Engineer for Newcrest Mining over the summer break of 2021-22.

I hadn’t done any vac work before (and had yet to move to the Kalgoorlie School of Mines, where I am living now), which meant I was completely ‘green’ and had to learn everything about everything. I was very lucky that in my position I was working with a team of nurturing young engineers, who were excellent mentors and teachers, who helped me to absorb and understand everything I learned.

I was working at Telfer, which is a site that is over 30 years old and covers several different types of mining methods including open pits, open stopes and sublevel caving. I was predominantly working with the underground team, which meant most of my technical knowledge gained was in the underground space. However, I was also able to advance my understanding of open pit technical engineering by also studying the historical database of instability events that have occurred courtesy of the open pit geotechnical team. I was fascinated by the systems that they use to analyze and monitor slope and bench stability as well as the preventative steps that they take to control any possible areas of instability.

Moreover, I was able to tour the West Dome and Main Dome open pits accompanied by the open pit production superintendent, who explained the changes that have been made across the site and their plans for the future. They opened my eyes to the different challenges experienced in open pit mining compared to underground work. Namely, the economies of scale experienced in open pit mining. I was able to see that a small change in the open pit can have massive implications to profitability and extraction methodology, which is a different beast when compared to the challenges of underground mining.

On the underground side, I was able to witness and explore firsthand how sublevel caving and open stoping work, and their technical intricacies. What blew me away for sublevel caving was the importance of logging and monitoring each crosscut constantly. This is for several purposes: first to ensure that dilution is controlled and secondly to monitor crosscut offset to the left and right, which controls the stability of the system. Moreover, I was surprised by the dynamic nature of the drilling and blasting required to make sure that each ring is pulled. This prompted me to learn more about why rings are dumped, why the burden is what it is, why we use emulsion and not ANFO, the types of primers that are used, as well as where the primers were placed and why.

Open stoping was also a fascinating technical challenge, and what interested me most was the monitoring of stopes through CMS’s. The blasting sequence in open stoping for large blasts is long and often complicated, and small hiccups can lead to a void shape that is often vastly different to what was planned. Exploring the performance of stopes was exciting and interesting technically to understand why what happened occurred. Rises that didn’t pull full height, overbreak due to a weak hanging wall, underbreak from insufficient subdrill etc. this analysis of stope performance furthered my technical understanding of underground mining, which can be applied to any blasting done underground.

I was also lucky to work with surveyors, geologists, and geotechnical engineers in exploring and learning how each area works together. Technically, seeing the monitoring systems that geotechnical engineers use to keep tabs on seismic activity and deformation around the mine and what determines the duration and extent of a SEZ (seismic exclusion zone) for a particular area. Moreover, seeing the technical requirements for issuing any plans allowed me to explore and understand each stope, furthering my technical understanding of the underground mine.

I learned how to use Deswik to create and issue drill plans, charge plans, level notes, stope notes and slashing plans. Each of these facets of being a drill and blast engineer required unbelievable new technical learnings. Drill plans meant I learned about each drill rig and its specifications, limitations and advantages, meaning I could pick which rig is suitable for each drilling job.

Charge plans gave me an insight into how blasting is conducted in both sublevel caves and open stopes, as well as exploring different explosive densities and different types of boosters and their effect on how the explosives and rings perform when blasted.

I created drill and blast shapes for geologists to analyse, allowing them to optimise their model and assay data for maximum efficiency of extraction, and reviewed the performance of the rings I had designed to be drilled and blasted with the help of the surveying team.

I also worked with the geotechnical engineers to review to ensure long term stability of specific stopes but also the mine at large. I couldn’t have accomplished these tasks without being mentored and guided by the technical services team, who helped me develop these skills.

Level and stope notes were also a fascinating dive into how technical information from each department is linked together, and how teams of different experts work together towards a common goal.

I was also taken on a tour of the processing plant and it was fascinating to see how the ore gets transformed to gold. Grinding, SAG mills, ball mills and crushers were so incredibly energy intensive that they use most of the energy of the whole site. Moreover, seeing how flotation is done and the scale of processing at a mine the size of Telfer is incredible. It was mind blowing to see how many flotation devices are linked in sequence to extract the gold, as well as the sheer volume of required ‘ingredients’ for the extraction of gold.

Clearly, there is a lot I have learned technically, however what I’ve outlined is really only the tip of the iceberg. I was able to learn so much – technically – about mining: open stoping, sublevel caving, open pit mining and processing.

2. What you learned about the mining industry

The thing that emerged for me as the most obvious learning about the industry is the required flexibility of everyone working. Each day, we would arrive and be presented with a new challenge that we didn’t expect and were tasked with solving these new problems with the tools available. Each day was a new and unexpected challenge, and we had to tackle each problem safely to keep the mine running smoothly. It was truly thrilling and made me realise that mining and the mining industry is flexible and unlike any other job on the planet.

I also learned how diverse the mining industry is. The world is a wonderful and diverse place, and the mining industry is a brilliant medium to meet and learn about all the interesting people who choose to pursue a career in the mining industry. I was able to witness firsthand the broad spectrum of people who work in mining, and realised what a fantastic opportunity to work with them and widen my gaze of the world.

3. How you see your future career

In future, the plan is to secure a grad job and work effectively with whatever team I am with. I hope to form relationships with those I work with, enjoying the environment that the mining industry provides. Eventually, I hope to rise to management, through my demonstration of a good work ethic as well as interpersonal skills which should separate me as a good leader. I was lucky to have leadership positions in the past and I strive to be able to lead teams again. Shift boss, foreman and potentially mine manager would all be wonderful opportunities, but all rely on consistent hard work. With my double degree in both Engineering and Commerce, I hope to use my financial eye to eventually work in corporate and managerial positions, possibly ending up on the board of directors of the company I work for.

However, as I’ve spoken to people who work in the industry, the path to where people end up is seldom as straight forward or as smooth as they plan and, of course, I will take opportunities that come my way. However, the overarching goal is still to work in management, and ideally in a corporate setting, where I feel I will excel.

4. What you learned about yourself while in the workforce

‘University is where you learn the rules, but working is where you learn the game.’

This quote from an old WASM alumni encapsulates what I learned about myself when working over summer. I secured this job thinking that I wouldn’t learn much, and that I knew most of what there was to know about the mining industry. How wrong I was. I was blown away by my inexperience and realised that there is simply no substitute for working in the industry. I need more experience and must learn more if I am to reach my goals eventually. I was very fortunate to be thrown in with a group of kind and nurturing engineers who taught me everything I learned. My experience at Telfer makes me excited to work in the industry over the coming years, to deepen my understanding of such a fascinating, important and exciting industry.

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