Digital Twinning Australia’s virtual solutions for the mining industry are reducing the need for fly-in, fly-out travel, allowing workers to spend more time with their families.
Australia has endured its fair share of isolation this year.
With the advent of border and travel restrictions, a chunk of the country’s fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) mining workforce had its wings clipped, barred from interstate travel.
Some workers have been forced to leave their family behind on the other side of the country and reside in a different state that is close to their workplace for the sake of their livelihoods.
According to the Western Australian Government, between 5000 to 6000 FIFO workers employed at mining or oil and gas sites travel to the state from Australia’s east.
Prior to the pandemic, FIFO employees were often stuck in arid, desolate locations for weeks and even months at a time. The mental toll of this line of work is often overlooked.
In 2018, the Western Australian Mental Health Commission studied the impacts of FIFO travel on the mental health and well-being of FIFO workers, with heightened feelings of anxiety and depression being common factors.
One third of FIFO workers in the study reported either ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of psychological distress.
A tragic outcome of this is that many FIFO workers have developed a dependency on drugs or alcohol, which can lead them down a rabbit hole and negatively impact their health and wellbeing.
Digital Twinning Australia chief executive officer Genéne Kleppe understands the impact that FIFO travel can have on workers.
“Digital twinning technology made a huge difference to me,” she tells Australian Mining. “I’m sympathetic because I actually understand what it’s like to travel that much.”
With an extensive career as a professional in the mining industry, Kleppe has often been required to work away from home for long periods. She has witnessed many people in the industry longing for more physical interaction with their family.
Sporting dynamic digital twinning technology, Digital Twinning Australia introduces a virtual environment to a mine site, allowing workers to remotely monitor and interact with the digital twin of an operation.
It can be accessed via a computer and fully embraces the complete benefits of automated technology.
With the industry embracing technology more than ever, digital twinning is set to assist the mining workforce with improved reliability and productivity through data analysis of critical systems.
“A critical system is a core system that is fundamental to delivering product at the lowest cost,” Kleppe says. “Our ability to access critical systems has happened, is happening and can only truly be achieved with a dynamic digital twin.”
For Kleppe, this has enabled jobs to be RIRO – remote in, remote out. She says workers benefit from RIRO by being at home with their families at the end of each shift.
“FIFO workers need to balance coping with isolation one week and re-entry trauma the next. Significantly reducing or removing FIFO will go a long way to reducing reliance on drugs and alcohol as a means of coping with the distress associated with such extremes in emotional wellbeing,” she says.
Digital twinning requires operating data to replicate a physical operation, which allows the mine’s engineers, geologists and managers to all access the site remotely.
“Today, when an alert goes off a worker advises another worker who will go and have a look, see what needs to be fixed (if anything) and bring others into the investigation,” Kleppe explains.
“With a dynamic digital twin, sending people off or waiting for people to arrive to complete the investigation is averted. People can virtually investigate and participate in a conversation from anywhere, without needing to be physically in-situ.”
Digital twinning technology also removes the need for workers to operate in hazardous environments, while also improving their mental health and wellbeing by moving on-site jobs to a computer screen.
“Coupling safety in design with digital twinning capability is a significant game changer for physical risk,” Kleppe says. “Digital twinning is going to reduce the requirement for FIFO workers to be FIFO workers.”
Kleppe says this can improve mental health by allowing workers to have a much more stable and healthy family unit by preventing interstate work.
“FIFO workers are moving from being on site, and therefore isolated, to being back with their family, which means having to connect to routines they don’t normally belong to and fitting in with everybody else’s plans,” Kleppe says.
“RIRO means they’ll be more connected to their social environments and if they become part of it, then the argument says drug and alcohol abuse will decline and domestic violence will decrease as a result.
“Dynamic digital twinning won’t take away jobs it will reinvent jobs. FIFO workers will become RIRO workers – physically in-situ to virtual in-situ.”
Kleppe believes the mining industry’s workforce may look very different in years to come, thanks to the advancements of digital twinning technology.
She says Digital Twinning’s technology will also enable workers to have a “cool, modern and trendy” job.
“Mum and dad walking around the back yard with a computer and goggles fixing the turbine, or for show and tell at school mum drops a hologram and shows the class what she does – which is way cooler than driving a Hilux,” Kleppe says.
And the idea of both dad and mum working in a mine is made possible with digital twinning, allowing for what Kleppe describes as “gender neutral” jobs for the next generation.
“Digital jobs are and will continue to develop into being gender-neutral,” Kleppe says.
“Digital Twinning Australia has a demonstration site in a girls’ school, using dynamic digital twinning of buildings we are introducing girls to modern technologies, showing them how the sun makes electricity, what a virtual power plant looks like, how water is wasted and used.
“These children will be technology, data and digitally ready when they leave school. These children will help us define what the future jobs will look like.”
This article will appear in the September edition of Australian Mining.