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Reshaping Underground Project Delivery
The following article was originally written for Mining Magazine's website. It was published here in June 2018.
The mining capital projects market is shifting. Demand for global commodities, such as copper and gold, is increasing, necessitating additional development. At the same time, most high-quality ore bodies that can be accessed with surface mines have already been developed and are in operation. To meet demand, mining companies are turning attention to underground mines to access new, high-quality ore bodies.
Underground mines often come with higher capital costs than surface mines and present unique challenges during project delivery. However, implementing innovative new approaches and best practices early in the project’s development can improve the project’s capital efficiency and cost and schedule certainty.
Fluor is working with clients to develop new ideas and technology to enhance the value of projects across a range of drivers in both execution and operations.
On several recent large surface projects, Fluor has had success implementing innovative new approaches, including Zero Base ExecutionSM, which focuses a project’s design and execution on meeting the project’s business drivers, and advanced work packaging, which is a rigorous construction planning process. These advancements have resulted in a better build and significant reduction of the total installed cost and schedule for our clients.
These execution approaches rely heavily on the early implementation of data, modelling integration tools and database structures that feed seamlessly into construction automation and planning tools.
As an early adopter of data and modelling integration tools, Fluor has benefited from greater collaboration and significant time and cost savings throughout project delivery. Clients are also rapidly adopting technology that relies on data integration to improve operational efficiency, productivity and asset integrity. We are now seeing increased investment in these data-centric execution processes, which is helping reshape the way we deliver projects.
Fluor has been involved in several leading underground mining projects, including Oyu Tolgoi copper mine, Cadia East gold and copper mine and a major diamonds mine. Combining the best practices gained from execution of these hallmark projects with these innovative new execution approaches, tailored to the underground environment, can drive cost, schedule and resource efficiency improvements.
The underground is a highly dynamic environment with many complex interfaces and constraints that require a high level of interaction and planning between mining and construction teams.
Development of 3D intelligent models has enabled better planning through 4D simulation which provides visualisation of the construction sequence in the model. These simulations are invaluable in identifying any interface, fit-up or logistics constraints that need to be addressed in the design, schedule or execution approach.
Advanced work packaging is another proactive planning tool that aligns different phases, disciplines and deliverables of a project through planning and execution. The process organizes and delivers all the elements necessary to the construction work fronts before the work is started. The benefits of advanced work packaging are improved safety performance by reducing craft density and field hours, as well as productivity and schedule improvements.
These tools not only improve our ability to effectively manage, schedule and control the interfaces between all areas of an underground project, but they also improve delivery certainty, as it encourages early collaboration between the engineering, procurement, construction and mining teams from day one, thereby creating more efficient designs and execution strategies.
While process facilities, crushers, conveyors and pipe racks have been modularized on mining projects in the past, especially in remote or high-cost locations, there are significant benefits to applying a similar modular mindset to underground projects.
Fluor’s 3rd Gen Modular ExecutionSM approach challenges traditional design methods by having the module strategy drive the layout of facilities, rather than vice versa. This approach increases the portion of a facility that can be modularized by consolidating equipment and components into the modules. While the typical underground facility may not have the same size or complexity as a surface facility, it is a heavily space and access-constrained environment. This type of environment benefits greatly from efficient modular designs, whether it is skid-mounted, flat-packed or turnkey smart modules.
Modularization not only improves safety and schedule by reducing activity underground but it also ensures the most efficient use of space, both in access ways, such as shafts, and mined envelopes underground.
On each of the underground mining projects Fluor has delivered, well-planned and executed logistics were absolutely critical to success. Optimizing personnel and material flow to reduce congestion at mine access points and minimizing delays due to shaft usage are key considerations when addressing logistics on an underground project.
RFID tracking technologies now enable materials to be tracked in real-time and visualized in the 3D model, providing a powerful planning and execution tool. The ability to have real-time reporting by linking the model to progress and showing material location at the push of a button is extremely powerful, particularly when managing shaft and underground logistics.
There is incredible opportunity to reshape underground mine project delivery by combining the latest technologies with the expertise and best practices gained from years of underground project execution. Integrated planning, modularization and logistics are just three areas where implementation of new technologies can improve productivity and safety. The end result is capital efficiency and delivery certainty for underground mine capital projects.