Calibrating Rio Tinto’s network of iron ore sites

Rio Tinto’s Pilbara operations had a successful September quarter. © 2018 Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto’s network of Pilbara operations is one of the most substantial for any region in the world of mining. So how does the miner manage the significant calibration responsibilities it has at the operations?

Rio Tinto Iron Ore’s operations in the Pilbara, Western Australia cover an area roughly the size of England.

The company’s assets in the region include 16 mine sites, 1700 kilometres of rail and four port terminals.

Rio Tinto supports these operations with a substantial number of utilities, such as four gas laterals, four fuel hubs, four power stations and 14 bulk supply stations.

The network runs around the clock alongside five towns, 3500 houses, 500 commercial properties, 38 villages, 16,000 beds and three aerodromes.

Rio Tinto’s calibration activities for the massive amount of equipment it requires in the region are, therefore, considerable and an important task that ensures the high level of productivity it targets.

Up until three years ago, each Pilbara operation had individually managed processes like calibration. For this reason, Rio Tinto assumed that no two sites were conducting these activities in the same way.

Rio Tinto endeavoured to change this approach and engaged Thermo Fisher Scientific to establish a single process across all Pilbara sites that would be made available to each company department.

The process Rio Tinto envisioned has since developed into a vendor-managed calibration program where Thermo Fisher visits every site across the region twice a year to maintain the miner’s compliance requirements.

Thermo Fisher provides flexible on site and off site services to ensure Rio Tinto maintains compliance, focusing on fast turnaround times for the repair and replacement of equipment and the delivery of instruments.

The program is then backed by an online database that manages the information generated during the calibration of equipment.

Thermo Fisher Scientific Australia and New Zealand general manager Stephen Pickering believes the extensive workload throughout the massive area could not be managed effectively unless the two companies developed a strong relationship from the beginning.

“The thing that has driven us forward is in the collaboration we have as organisations,” Pickering tells Australian Mining.

“It is the ability for us to understand what their requirement is and then to be able to match what we deliver for their requirement. And make sure that we both have the goal in sight and that we are working towards the same thing.”

Rio Tinto has included its major contract partners in the calibration program so they can also use Thermo Fisher’s services while on site.

The important factor was for us to get the calibrations done on site and also to be able to manage all of the geographical spread of our operations.

The electrical test instrument calibrations cover analogue and digital multimeters, current clamp meters, insulation resistance testers up to 10 kilovolt, micro ohm meters, earth loop testers, process loop calibrators, RCD testers, portable appliance testers, installation testers (multifunction testers), and resistance decade boxes.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore core services engineering manager Bradley Edwards says Thermo Fisher has been flexible in its delivery of these on-site calibration services and others.

“The important factor was for us to get the calibrations done on site and also to be able to manage all of the geographical spread of our operations,” Edwards says.

“The key aspect of why we believe it has been successful is the relationships that have been established with each of the site operations in order to be able to make the calibrations and service work smoothly and efficiently.”

Thermo Fisher aims to strengthen the relationship by offering additional feedback on how efficiencies can improve further through its services.

“They are always continually looking for extra pieces of equipment that they can calibrate to add to the register, making life a bit easier for us,” Edwards says.

“It’s pivotal that we do have strong partnerships with vendors that are able to prove that they can deliver and have the capability.

“These partnerships do evolve over time and I believe in this case we have got strong bonds with Thermo Fisher in terms of the services they are currently providing and for future services.”

Thermo Fisher’s data management provides Rio Tinto with calibration information and an asset register, which has benefited the miner’s auditing activities, both from an internal perspective and for those undertaken externally by regulatory bodies.

“At a click of a button an operator or maintainer on the shop floor can access that information easily,” Edwards says.

Pickering, who has worked for Thermo Fisher around the world over the past 15 years, has been involved with the Australian resources industry specifically for the past year since starting his current role.

He has quickly become aware of the growing importance of data for resources businesses over this time, particularly during his experiences in the Pilbara.

“A lot of (data) comes from our high-end instrumentation, it is helping customers understand how to use that and how to consolidate all of that information to give them an output that they can execute against,” Pickering says.

“We have companies with a lot of data and the capturing of that data is happening, but I still think people struggle to understand how to execute against the information that is available.

“I think as we move forward understanding how we work with our clients in this industry and enabling them to get better at what they do by utilisation of data is going to be an incredibly important space.”

Pickering believes the journey that Thermo Fisher and Rio Tinto have started in this way will continue to develop through the calibration partnership.

“I think as we continue to work together and we continue to evolve together in process and instrumentation that journey will flourish,” Pickering concludes.

This article also appears in the June edition of Australian Mining.

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