Espousing the importance of spacial sciences

Mine surveyors play a critical role in the design, planning and safety of mine operations, responsible for producing accurate plans, observations, assumptions and geospatial analysis.

However, the future of Australia’s mine surveying sector is not immune to the looming skill shortage.

Speaking to National Mining Chronicle, Curtin University School of Earth and Planetary Sciences Senior Lecturer Tony Snow said Australian educational institutions had not graduated enough surveyors over the past decade, with just five students expected to graduate as mine surveyors from this year’s cohort at the Western Australian School of Mines in Kalgoorlie.

Despite this, Mr Snow, who is also the WA Chairman of the Engineering & Mining Surveying Commission, remains optimistic about the profession and its future importance in the mining industry and beyond.

“The continued need for providing guaranteed positioning, data collection and geospatial data management means surveyors have an ever-important role to play,” he said.

Mr Snow said surveying had been dramatically reshaped by new technologies.

“In 1989, mine surveyors were still carrying out stope surveys with a tape clinometer and a compass in areas of selective mining in the gold mines of Kalgoorlie,” he said.

“The mine surveying profession, driven primarily by computing, has experienced a quantum leap over the past three decades in surveying equipment technology and data collection methods.”

Mr Snow said while a surveyor’s skills in terms of positioning and measurement were still vitally important, the management of collected data was now an essential component of the role. He said mine surveyors of the future would need to be well-versed and competent in a range of data-management capabilities.

“The mine surveyor is the one person who understands all facets of positional data, has the education and experience to ensure the data collection methods and checks are valid and can guarantee its accuracy,” he said. “A mine’s production and future expansion is dependent on the accuracy of the mine surveyor and his or her positional data.”

According to Mr Snow, the integrity of a minesite model depends on the reliability of the information used. To reinforce this, he pointed to a study conducted by diamond giant De Beers.

The mine surveying profession, driven primarily by computing, has experienced a quantum leap over the past three decades in surveying equipment technology and data collection methods.

“In the late 1980s, a De Beers study of the company’s overall mining operations determined the greatest risk to productivity was errors in the surveying and associated data that resulted in lost production – 30 years later this would still be a valid proposition,” he said.

While advancements in technology have changed the way mine surveyors work, Mr Snow said changing technology was not a problem in the industry.

“In fact, the very nature of surveying means we are always looking to measure things better, faster, more accurately and obtain more data in the process,” he said.

“The real challenge is ensuring the industry has enough suitably qualified mine surveying people.

“Low student entry numbers mean surveying courses across the country are under enormous pressure to remain economically viable given the reduction of government funding in the tertiary education sector.

“We have had a shortage of mine surveyors, certainly in WA, for the past few years and this is only going to become worse.”

Mr Snow said it was only when things went wrong that the value of a good mine surveyor was recognised.

“Unfortunately for our profession, we are extremely good in making sure the surveying is always done right,” he said. “We as a profession are the quiet achievers.”

Glencore Rolleston Open Cut Senior Mine Surveyor Ken Cross echoed Mr Snow’s view and said attracting quality candidates, particularly women, into the mine surveying profession was the biggest challenge.

“Future mine surveyors will need to be vigilant regarding the quality of data that will be captured by users outside of the survey team with less skill in error detection and management,” he said.

“It has been said for some time now that the role of the surveyor will become more of a spatial data manager, and it’s true.”

Drones

Over the past decade, Mr Cross said advancements in drone technology had been a game changer for the profession.

“Quite simply, drones allow for safer and more efficient capturing of data,” he said. “Particularly at sites where surveyors are involved in drone activities outside of traditional mapping, the perceived value and pro le of surveyors has improved greatly.”

Mr Cross said today’s drones were affordable and simple to use.

“The data is more reliable and the drones offer many side applications outside of mapping,” he said.

“Examples include thermal imagery, communication videos and real-time video streaming for emergencies.

“The safe and efficient capture of spatial data is unmatched by any alternate technology.”

Curtin University School of Earth and Planetary Sciences Senior Research Fellow Dr David Belton said it was important to remember drones were just another tool.

“While drones allow for rapid mapping and data collection, it is the data integrity and analysis, as well as the implementation into current workflows and best practices, that make them useful,” he said.

While the technology and equipment might be getting easier to use, Dr Belton said analysis, data integrity and assurance were becoming more important as more systems and mine areas became further interoperable and automated.

 

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