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Technology adoption supports responsible mining for MACA


Mining, Infrastructure and Construction contractor MACA on-boards technology across 7 active mine projects to support the company’s wider strategy of building sustainable futures.

Founded in Western Australia in 2002, MACA is an ASX-listed company that offers end-to-end contracting services across the mining, infrastructure, and construction sectors throughout Australia and overseas. 

A values-led work ethic, a ‘can-do’ approach, and agile operations are what drives the company in its approach to projects and its selection of partners, explains Technical Services Manager Shane Clark. 

“People First is a guiding principle at MACA in everything we do, with a focus on responsible, sustainable mining. As such, we look for partners that share our values and care about giving back to the community. It’s not only about profit.” 

For the past 10 years, MACA has been the principal partner and title sponsor of the Cancer 200 cycling fundraiser. The 2-day, 200-kilometre circuit south of Perth attracts more than 1,000 riders each year, with 100% of proceeds donated to the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research. The MACA team has raised more than $17 million over the last decade.

Selecting a vendor

The Aptella Perth team includes several avid cyclists who share MACA’s commitment to giving back to the communities in which they work and live. A few years ago a group of Aptella employees joined the Cancer 200 ride and from there the relationship developed to assist MACA with its technology requirements. 

“Our journey with MACA started with cycling and drills,” said Bernard Cecchele, a Founder and Key Account Manager at Aptella. “The first project involved implementing high precision on a drill rig at Mount Magnet.” 

Mr Clark explained that when he first joined MACA in 2016 the company had a client-led strategy to implementing technology. “At that time, we had a smattering of systems from different suppliers often based on what the client had requested during the tender process, which weren’t necessarily in the best interests of MACA’s or our client’s overall business goals,” he said.

MACA Mining

Responsible for the mining group’s operational technology, estimating and engineering, Mr Clark researched the vendors and technologies available that would offer maximum productivity. With an initial focus on standardising the high precision systems, he concluded that Aptella offered the widest selection and greatest flexibility when it came to on-boarding equipment. 

 “Our operations are complex, but our procurement doesn’t have to be,” Mr Clark said. “I’d rather have one supplier that can work with us towards mutual outcomes and the technology we want to embed in our business.

 “In contracting, our wheel changes daily and we need a supplier that can be flexible around our evolving needs. Some of the monolith technology suppliers can’t operate that way, you have to conform to their processes if you want to buy product from them and that doesn’t work for us.” 

Aptella’ experience and product range for civil applications has also been advantageous for MACA, as the company delivers civil services in parallel to its mining operations. “That is another reason for choosing a supplier that can offer more flexibility and experience in their product and service offering, as most of the larger vendors either specialise in civil, or mining, not both,” Mr Clark said 

“In contracting, our wheel changes daily and we need a supplier that can be flexible around our evolving needs. Some of the monolith technology suppliers can’t operate that way, you have to conform to their processes if you want to buy product from them and that doesn’t work for us.”

“We tend to recommend the Topcon platform for applications such as tailings dams, because the 3D-MC2 sensors provide automatic control and means MACA can build the design faster,” Mr Cecchele added. “But for day-to-day mining operations where the team is benching a floor, Carlson is ideal because it’s simple and designed specifically for that type of work.” 

A supplier with local operations in Western Australia was also critical, Mr Clark said. “I certainly experienced frustrations trying to get support out of South Australia or Queensland with other vendors, so we were never going to select a supplier that didn’t have strong local support capabilities,” he said.

A problem that needs solving 

Now that MACA’s technology adoption is strategically focussed on operational efficiency, Mr Clark says he takes a collaborative approach to on-boarding new solutions. 

“Generally, I have a solution in mind or a problem I want to solve as part of a tender,” he said. “I approach most things from an estimating perspective, getting into the detail of what a client requires for their specific project and then carving an offering out of that.” 

Sometimes Aptella also puts forward upcoming solutions that are in the pipeline or very new to market. “We ask MACA for their wish list, including improvements or features on an existing platform, things that unnecessary or not quite right, or an entirely new technology,” said Mr Cecchele. “We then work to source and customise solutions to suit.”

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Traditionally, technology is developed by manufacturer research and development teams with little engagement at the client level. “The way we work with MACA is really how I believe technology should be evolved, inverting that relationship so that the manufacturers listen to the customers’ challenges and ideas to develop their products accordingly.” 

A case in point, Mr Clark said, is the evolution of Fleet Management Systems. “They started off solving a problem that the clients had, but then the manufacturers tried to front-run and create a product for what they thought the market might need. You ended up with these really bloated offerings that no longer did the meat and potatoes well, paying a lot of money for features you didn’t need,” he said. 

 “Everyone looks for technology that will shift the needle on CO2 production,” he added. “In my view, the first thing we can do is get the basics right and execute to plan and minimise wastage. High precision GPS and fleet management systems, coupled with good planning tools, enable us to achieve those goals. Some of the high-end OEM systems offer optimised fuel mapping profiles to save 15%, which is great, but we can save more than 15% of CO2 use if we just use tools we currently have as efficiently as possible.” 

"Aptella has continued to work with iVolve on this to the point that we’re now seeing a light FMS system that gives us that scalability that we are looking for"

According to Mr Clark, the core requirement for an FMS is to track material movement from source to destination, reporting total loads without manual, paper-based data entry. “As a contractor we are primarily focussed on productivity and knowing just how much and what type of material we have moved to what locations,” he said. 

Asset management is also critical to FMS, knowing where all assets are at any given time. “We currently operate across 14 sites, but if you drill down into some of the more complex ones, we may have 16 pits on a single site with 10 excavators, 60 production trucks, 30 ancillary units and 20 drills,” he added. “There’s a huge advantage for the maintenance teams being able to locate and get out to machines that have failed in a timely manner.” 

Mr Clark explained that for MACA, there is more value in delivering these entry-level requirements across the whole fleet before deployments too far up and down the stack, where it is harder to realise the value. 

Three years ago, the business tendered for a light version of FMS without all the bells and whistles. However, the vendors came back with a suggestion that was still poles apart from MACA’s expectations in terms of price point and feature set. It led to MACA designing their own FMS platform for the project, however Mr Clark said the Aptella team didn’t give up on finding a solution that would meet their needs. “Aptella has continued to work with iVolve on this to the point that we’re now seeing a light FMS system that gives us that scalability that we are looking for,” he said. 

MACA Mining

Tracking material movement with volumetrics

In addition to iVolve FMS solutions, MACA deploys Carlson high precision machineguidance across several sites. “I believe it’s very difficult for any one supplier to have a development team large enough to be a market leader in all spaces. To me Carlson offers the best high precision solution on the market,” Mr Clark said.

MACA’s mining division grew out of the gold fields, he explained, offering highly specialised services with small diggers, small trucks, and high selectivity. “As we’ve grown, we have scaled that to bigger sites, but we’ve kept the same client base and similar ore bodies that require that high level of selectivity,” he said.

“What excited me most about the Carlson system was the volumetrics, which for the first time gave us the opportunity to prove exactly what tool collected what piece of material. You’re dealing with tough environments where you may have to dig out an ore block and then go back and sheet over the top of it to maintain trafficability on the floor. Previously you wouldn’t have known until later if you’d left the floor too high or missed pockets of ore.”

Accurately recording and reconciling with a client’s geological model is the core benefit MACA has realised through deploying high precision machine guidance.
“With Carlson we can offer our clients full transparency on exactly what the excavator moved out as it’s working. We can prove to the client that we’re managing the ore body responsibly and effectively, demonstrating that we’ve removed the full tonnage and then sheeted with a low-grade material, showing exactly how much we’ve put over the top and diluted the net bench,” he said.

Carlson’s volumetrics reporting was used at Ravensthorpe mine, where MACA faced a challenging plant environment – managing not only the grade of material coming out of the pit but also the pH of the material. “We needed to control that sheeting requirement very closely, recording exactly what was getting direct tipped into the plant at any given time so we could trace material back if there were any issues,” Mr Clark said.

“It’s also a very light material, in an area with heavy rainfall, so the density and weight vary significantly. We incorporated a payload system in conjunction with the high precision technology to give us true productivity readings and avoid any surprises at the end of the month,” he added.

“We are committed to being leading edge in our approach to projects and lowering our impact to the environment, but it can never come at the expense of safety for our people.”

Agile, early adopter methodology

With clients increasingly demanding greater transparency through digital service delivery and shared data insights, MACA is deploying FMS and high precision machine guidance across more sites. As the business has grown and invested in more capital-intensive assets, optimised utilisation, proactive maintenance, and effective output are becoming more critical.

MACA’s approach to on-boarding technology is to be an early adopter of new solutions to market where they see potential for productivity, safety and/or efficiency gains.

Newer trends in surveying such as aerial mapping have been embraced by MACA, with the company now operating some 16+ remotely piloted aircraft (RPAS). “That service has grown dramatically in the last two years, we now have around 25 pilots across the company and it’s continuing to expand exponentially as we use the drones for more applications,” Mr Clark said. “For example, we’re now contractually obligated to film every blast with a drone for some of our clients. We also offer post-blast ore modelling to clients, a service that is only practical to do with a drone survey.”

Remaining at the cutting edge of technology deployment means that MACA is investigating the benefits of autonomous trucks. “We think autonomy 2.0 offers a lot more benefit beyond current solutions, with more smarts and less operational support dependency to maximise uptime on the machines,” Mr Clark said. 

MACA also sees the potential for autonomous trucks to work in a mixed fleet environment alongside human-operated plant. “There will be some regulatory work to do, but for us that would be the panacea to have our highly skilled personnel executing the most complex engineering operations and leave the repetitive grunt work to the autonomous trucks,” he added.

Keeping its workforce safe is paramount in all that MACA does. The company is currently exploring retrofit electrification of equipment with global business investment conglomerate Mitsui & Co. Ltd, with safety at the forefront. “When you’re entering a new frontier and pushing the limits of technology with alternative fuel sources, I’d rather have that tested on an autonomous vehicle without a person inside that machine,” Mr Clark said.

“We are committed to being leading edge in our approach to projects and lowering our impact to the environment, but it can never come at the expense of safety for our people.”