Smoothing out complex operations

The Olive Downs Complex is shaping up to be a world-class producer of steelmaking coal, and several companies are working together to make it run smoothly.

The Olive Downs Complex is no small operation.

Sitting in the heart of Queensland’s Bowen Basin – the coal-mining mecca of Australia’s east coast – this greenfield mine has a yield of up to 15 million tonnes of product per annum for steel production.

Located almost 40km south-east of Moranbah, the Olive Downs Complex is home to an open-cut metallurgical coal mine and a coal-handling and preparation plant. With approximately $1 billion having already been invested in the site, it’s estimated to deliver 500 construction jobs and 1000 operational jobs to Queensland.

There are also plans for an automated train-loading facility to be constructed, with the ability to load 10,000 trains.

A new rail spur will provide connection to the existing Norwich Park Branch Railway system for the transportation of coal product to the port facilities.

Coal will be transported to the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal for which capacity is secured for stage one of the project. Linear infrastructure corridors will provide for power, road, water and rail services to the project site.

The Olive Downs Complex has been wholly owned by Pembroke Resources since 2016, when the company acquired 100 per cent interest in Olive Downs South, which began construction in 2019, and Willunga, which will begin construction in 2027.

Olive Downs South and Willunga are both domains which make up the project, along with associated linear infrastructure corridors.

The operation of the Olive Downs Complex is made easy through Pembroke’s strong relationship with Thiess, Hastings Deering and Liebherr. 

“Thiess is a Tier 1 mining contractor that has a lot of experience in mining, with strong foundations in safety, innovation and sustainability,” Pembroke Resources operations manager Jamie Vaughan told Australian Mining. “They have a proven track record of success operating at large-scale operations in the Bowen Basin.

“Thiess is well positioned to continue to assist in the growth of the Olive Downs Complex.

Hastings Deering and Liebherr have delivered new heavy earthmoving equipment on schedule to Thiess to enable the assembly and commissioning of the machinery on-site. The Thiess senior leadership team on-site has already delivered on achieving mobilisation milestones safely.”

Pembroke hired Thiess to deliver full-service mining operations to the Olive Downs Complex.

These operations include mine planning, overburden removal, drill and blast, load and haul, water management, and rehabilitation, as well as the construction of mine infrastructure, and provision of all mobile plant and equipment. Thiess is also the statutory operator at the Olive Downs Complex.

Thiess general manager of mining Vikesh Magan emphasised the strong working relationship between Thiess and Pembroke, highlighting their collaborative approach and shared commitment to achieving sustainable outcomes.

“The partnership comes in many forms,” he told Australian Mining.

“Pembroke Resources relies on us to optimise mining operations, including identifying optimal mining locations and implementing proven efficiencies to enhance safety, minimise environmental risk and achieve maximum productivity sooner.

“Pembroke supplies the core infrastructure, while Thiess provides the capital for mobile plant, along with the people, processes and equipment needed to deliver safe mining operations.”

Magan said Thiess and Hastings Deering are enabling autonomous operations at the Olive Downs Complex, which includes the supply of autonomous Cat 794 AC trucks.

Hastings Deering resource industries business manager Brad Scholz said the company has an obligation to meet strict deadlines at the Olive Downs Complex.

“Hastings Deering provides quality equipment to Thiess in line with production dates set by Pembroke Resources,” Scholz told Australian Mining.

“Not only do we supply the new equipment, we also carry out a pre-assembly at our Mackay and Rockhampton business centres prior to the equipment being transported to site, where the final assembly and commissioning takes place.

“Once equipment is fully assembled, we then calibrate it and get the technologies, such as command for haulage and command for drilling, up and running.”

According to Dean Morgan, Hastings Deering technology site performance manager, the benefits of automation spread far in the resources sector.

“Automation in mining enables a real step change in safety, productivity and efficiency,” he told Australian Mining. “In fact, automation is the only system that eliminates risk to truck operators in the mining environment.”

Morgan said Caterpillar has more autonomous fleets throughout the world than any other original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

“Hastings Deering and Caterpillar provide a fully engineered end-to-end solution for all Cat equipment,” he said.

A wide array of Cat equipment will be used at the Olive Downs Complex, including the 15 Cat 794 AC trucks.

The truck also features an electric drive powertrain that Caterpillar has designed and integrated.

In addition, the Olive Downs Complex will have a number of Cat 793F trucks, six of which will be autonomous, plus three Cat MD6310 blasthole drills. 

Morgan said Hastings Deering’s broader portfolio can also provide safety, productivity and efficiency.

“The results are game-changing,” he said. “Workers are safer, machines are moving more efficiently and operations are running more consistently and productively.”

And when it comes to the success of the Olive Downs Complex, relationships are key.

“Our relationship with Thiess has spanned a very long time,” Scholz said.

“We work well together, collaborate well and, at the end of the day, we try and put a solution in place for Thiess that’s going to meet their expectations, as well as their clients.

“Not only do we sell the equipment, but we also provide support through the life of the asset.

“We have product-support personnel on the ground at the Olive Downs Complex. If there’s any issues or concerns, we’re able to act swiftly to ensure we can get that product back to work.”

Scholz believes being involved with the Olive Downs Complex is a prime opportunity for Hastings Deering to display its autonomous trucks and blasthole drills.

“Olive Downs is going to be a flagship site because majority of the mobile fleet is part of the Caterpillar brand,” he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to be able to demonstrate and provide awareness far and wide as to what we’re capable of, (including) collaborating closely with our customers to ensure they are successful.”

This feature appeared in the July 2023 issue of Australian Mining.

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