24 August 2012
Rio Tinto opens world's first training centre for specialist underground mining method
The world's first training centre dedicated to the specialist underground mining technique of block caving has opened its doors at Rio Tinto's Northparkes copper and gold mine.
The $13 million Block Caving Knowledge Centre was officially opened today at Northparkes Mines near Parkes, in central west New South Wales, by the NSW Governor, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir.
Rio Tinto is a world leader in block caving underground mining, which involves the controlled collapse of ore from under its own weight into specially-designed chutes for collection. The ore is then brought to the surface for processing.
With deposits becoming deeper, Rio Tinto forecasts that underground copper mining will increase over the next two decades.
Rio Tinto Copper chief executive Andrew Harding said "Block cave mining is safer, more cost-effective and can be done on a much larger scale than traditional underground mining methods. It requires highly specialised skills, and this new centre will cement our leadership in developing and operating block cave mines as we move to the next generation of orebodies.
"The Northparkes centre will train Rio Tinto miners and engineers from around the world in the technical and operational skills needed to operate block cave mines, starting with teams from the new Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia and the Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia."
Northparkes Mines' managing director Stefanie Loader said "Northparkes was the first mine in Australia to use block caving, starting 15 years ago. Since then we have refined the method and it is now in its third generation. It has given us improvements in safety, productivity and a reduction in operating costs. Our expert knowledge and capability makes our mine an ideal location for a state-of-the-art training complex."
The custom-built Block Caving Knowledge Centre has a number of specialist training features including an immersion theatre that allows geotechnical data to be displayed in a 3D 360 degree simulation and an underground simulator room. It also features specialist-trade training facilities, meeting rooms fitted with interactive whiteboards, HD video conferencing systems and wireless technology.
The centre, which has a native Australian landscape design, has a five-star energy rating and is fitted with solar panels and has an east-west orientation for maximum light to enter the building.
In developing the centre, Rio Tinto has worked in partnership with the University of New South Wales, which offers postgraduate courses for mining engineers.
The first intake at the centre will be a group of mine operators from the Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia, starting next month. Once trained, they will apply their new skills in underground mining methods at Argyle where a new block cave mine is being constructed to reach diamonds that were previously considered inaccessible.
Rio Tinto is investing in other leading-edge technologies to advance the efficiency and safety of mining operations and to reduce its environmental impact. This month, a new Tunnel Boring System will go on trial at Northparkes. The 75-metre long system will cut and reinforce underground tunnels and could decrease the time it takes to construct an underground mine by 40 per cent.
The Block Caving Knowledge Centre and the new Tunnel Boring System complement Rio Tinto's Mine of the Future™ initiative which introduces next-generation technologies to mining operations to reduce costs, increase efficiency and improve health, safety and environmental performance.
About Rio Tinto
Rio Tinto is a leading international mining group headquartered in the UK, combining Rio Tinto plc, a London and New York Stock Exchange listed company, and Rio Tinto Limited, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange.
Rio Tinto's business is finding, mining, and processing mineral resources. Major products are aluminium, copper, diamonds, thermal and metallurgical coal, uranium, gold, industrial minerals (borax, titanium dioxide and salt) and iron ore. Activities span the world and are strongly represented in Australia and North America with significant businesses in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America.
For further information, please contact:
Media Relations, Australia / Asia
Office: +61 (0) 3 9283 3620
Mobile: +61 (0) 419 850 205
Office: +61 (0) 3 9283 3627
Mobile: +61 (0) 412 119 389
Office: +61 (0) 3 9283 3612
Mobile: +61 (0) 419 103 454