Western Australia drilling companies innovate technologies to increase productivity in a stretching sector.

Peter Hall

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, AUSTRALIAN DRILLING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION

February 13, 2017

Could you provide us with some details regarding the organisation’s role within the mining industry and how companies can gain membership to the ADIA?

The ADIA currently represents about 800 members from the mineral exploration, waterwell, energy and infrastructure sectors. Specifically related to mining, our members perform surface and underground mine exploration drilling, mine dewatering with other accompanying hydro services and geotechnical and environmental drilling. We also have a smaller number of members who perform drill and blast drilling.

Membership is open to any company or individual that works in these sectors. We also have members from the manufacturing, consultancy and supply companies who provide services to the drilling contractors.

Metres drilled on new deposits increased in Q3 and Q4 of 2016 comparatively to 2015, do you forecast this trend to continue and what has triggered this increase?

Several of our members confirmed what the statistics were saying about drilling having increased in these two quarters and managed to put extra rigs to work. At this stage this additional drilling seems to be confined to the gold and lithium sectors. With more recent price increases in coal and base metals, we would expect that the trend will continue further into 2017. 

Could you describe your partnership with the Australian Drilling Industry Training Committee, and in which ways the ADIA supports its members through training? 

During the mining boom years, ADIA had its own RTO (Registered Training Organization) called Drillskill, which was predominantly Western Australian focused. The ADITC was more concentrated on the Eastern States in this period. The industry’s requirement for training and qualifications reduced significantly from 2013 onwards which resulted in the ADIA having to shut down Drillskill. ADIA has always maintained a strong working relationship with the ADITC, so since the closure of Drillskill, we will direct any training enquiries to them.

The ADIA has always believed strongly in ensuring that training and competencies delivered are what drilling contractors require. Whilst a lot of training and practical experience is always going to be gained at the job-site, we believe that the training provided by an RTO is what the industry requires. 

Could you describe the federal government’s current policy on the industry’s national training package and in which ways this package assists the industry?

 The way it works is that the industry provides the expertise for the contents of the training package through its inclusion on an Industry Reference Committee (IRC).  The IRC for drilling specifically looks after components of the RII Training Package with committee members coming from different expertise areas of the drilling industry. Between the government and the IRC, there is a Skilled Service Organization (SSO) which is government funded, manages the training package and assists the IRC with what needs to be done, and with any compliance requirements.

It is a solid, workable system, and some of the current attention is on what will be the next set of skills needed when demand picks up again. No doubt there will be another skills shortage at some future time, as is usually the case because of the cyclical nature of the drilling industry, and we need to be equipped as best as we can to meet it.

Could you highlight a few of your key members and describe the projects they are currently working on? Which would you say are the most important drilling projects taking place in 2017? 

The larger sized drilling contractors who work in the iron ore and coal sectors will be the ones to monitor through the year, to see how the recent increase in prices translates into work and remuneration for those contractors. Many of them expanded their equipment fleets in the boom period at great cost to their business, and when the mining company budget cuts started being implemented, a large portion of that equipment was made idle. To put equipment back to work that has not worked for 4-5 years, often will require more investment in extensive maintenance. Therefore these contractors will be wanting to see that rates have already bottomed and they can start to see some decent rate increases. 

What kinds of developments are taking place to improve the safety hazards that drilling entails, perhaps in terms of automation, robotics or IoT?

Going back a few years, safety improvements were centered around the drill rig itself and this work remains a continuous improvement process. Current work is focused on getting the drill crew away from moving parts, as often the highest incident rate on drill rigs is hand injuries. This has resulted in the development of hands free rod handling systems for most types of drill rigs and these are getting to the point of needing very little manual intervention in the process. Secondly, the aim is to place the driller further away from rotating components by the use of a remote control panel.

Notwithstanding this, there is presently also a lot of attention given to the welfare of the drill crew these days by proper management programs for fatigue, heat stress, driving, drug and alcohol monitoring and so on.

Do you have a final message for our international readership?

The Australian drilling industry has been through a very difficult time since the end of the boom but there is a lot of resilience in the companies who are still operating. The ADIA can name about 150 drilling companies that have gone into liquidation over the last few years, resulting in a lot of stress in the sector.

 

Those working currently would no doubt like to see an end to the price cutting and a return to more normal operating conditions. They continue to invest in innovation and new ways to improve productivity and safety and want to see a fair return for their efforts.

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