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Weather Delay Analysis of Coal Mining

In mining, weather delays can be very costly to production schedules.  By understanding the impact of certain types of weather related delays (ie. rain) on their ‘open cut’ mines, Rio Tinto Coal Australia (RTCA) can model and better plan for seasonal and other types of rain events.  This was the focus of RTCA’s latest CEED project.

Rio Tinto Coal Australia - Leo Liang (CEED student) 
 Above:  Leo Liang (CEED student) with his project supervisor
 Paul Fox (Rio Tinto Coal Australia)

The company already had data on the contributing factors impacting their mining process.  However, RTCA wanted to gather additional data and conduct a detailed analysis to fully understand how asset performance (ie trucks and other equipment) and production is affected by weather events, specifically rain.

A UQ Master of Engineering Science student, Lifeng (Leo) Liang, was selected by RTCA for this CEED project.

During his project, Leo focused on three areas:

  • Data correlation (such as correlation between rainfall, delay and productivity; the delay data accuracy; and different levels of impact between pits and sites)

  • Causes of delays (eg. type of rain events; kinds of equipment driving the delays; and the types of site conditions driving the delays (eg. road conditions)

  • Solution / action to the weather event (eg. predictive model; proactive plan; identify any missing data than can improve the predictive model)

The overall desired outcome of Leo’s project was to provide the level of information necessary for RTCA to better prepare before a predicted rain event ... and to improve the recovery time after the rain stops.  In addition, RTCA wanted to build up a baseline in their modelling, which can be used to measure future improvement action against actual outcomes, so the model can be continually improved.

The project scope was kept fairly narrow, to avoid the possibility of scope ‘creep’.  RTCA knows there are additional areas to be investigated, but they felt this focus for Leo’s project would deliver the best overall results.

With the unprecedented amount of rain experienced across Queensland in early 2011, it was an opportune time for Leo to commence his project.  As part of his project planning phase, Leo met with various staff and visited two of the mines under analysis (in the Hunter Valley and Clermont).

Then, Leo gathered data from the truck fleet wet weather delay records stored in a company database, plus the rainfall records from each site’s weather station.

The data analysis process was carried out as follows: 1) annual analysis, 2) Weekly/Daily analysis, and 3) predictive modeling (linear and non-linear).  A sensitivity analysis was then applied, to statistically determine the lower and upper limits. This analysis provides a better explanation / context for each weather event being observed. 

Leo gathered and analysed data for years 2008 – 2010.

When comparing the models across the different sites in his study, Leo found a significant difference in the wet weather impact on each mine operation. The average difference between the models was about 10% loss of calendar time. Leo put forward some hypothetical reasons for the significant difference in wet weather impact across the sites in question:

  1. Differences in operation policy
  2. Differences in geological condition
  3. Differences in equipment application

At the conclusion of Leo’s project (in June), he made a number of recommendations for improving the analysis and modeling.  For commercial reasons, Leo’s recommendations are only listed here in broad terms:

  • Data Integrity
  • Wet Weather Strategy
  • Infrastructure Improvement
  • Equipment Analysis and Improvement
  • Operator Training

RTCA has employed Leo on a 12 month contract, to perform additional analytical work in an associated area for the company.

For Leo, his CEED project at RTCA has provided invaluable experience in planning and managing a real life company project.  Leo said, “Knowledge that can be learned from Uni is important to my career but it is not competitive to that learned in an actual industrial environment. As an international student, my CEED project has provided me with a fantastic opportunity to gain working experience in Australia, and working for RTCA is the most significant milestone so far for my long-term career as an engineer”.

Leo’s project supervisor, Principal Advisor Improvement Delivery Paul Fox, said the value of this project to the company can not be underestimated

“The results of Leo’s project will allow our business to more fully understand not only the impact of rain duration and intensity on our mine sites, but also how to use this information to better prepare for rain events in future,” said Mr Fox.


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