Remote asset management & 3D visualisation
Fortescue is unlocking the potential of the iron-rich Pilbara region of Western Australia. Essential to achieving this vision is being the lowest cost and most profitable iron ore producer. Fortescue’s Geographical Information System (GIS) team partnered with NGIS Australia to develop a solution that allows remote management of assets and 3D visualisation of terrain on remote mine sites. NGIS Australia worked closely with the Fortescue GIS team to develop Fortescue Earth, a Google Earth Enterprise solution, from first concept into a live platform. Fortescue Earth addresses one of the greatest challenges facing mining companies – engagement with its remote workforce and local communities. Using the familiar tools of Google Maps, complex spatial data was made accessible across all areas of Fortescue’s business in a simple format.
3D Geospatial information
The iron ore lifecycle begins with exploration and discovery. It then extends to drilling hole locations, placing mine sites and digging pits, building haul roads, and setting up heavy equipment such as conveyors and crushing hubs – not to mention the massive railways needed to move the ore to its shipping destination. Along the way, assets must be tracked and costs logged. Regulators such as the Environmental Protection Agency must be informed every step of the way. Precious heritage sites with valuable artifacts must be protected, along with flora and fauna that may be affected by disturbance of the earth. Fortescue must minimise impact to these vital assets, which means that there is almost no room for error in its mining operations. Adding to the challenge, Fortescue must account for its entire footprint of hectares cleared as part of its licences to operate provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. Explains Adam Roestenburg, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) administrator for Fortescue. “For instance, we would never want to clear allocated hectares for storing equipment if we could use it for key infrastructure such as conveyor corridors or stockpiles.”
Until recently, Fortescue relied on traditional 2D maps and PDF files, created by the company’s GIS specialists. Updating GIS information was a manual, cumbersome process using the previous web-based portal – a tool that required specialised expertise and training. Site surveys were typically conducted on the ground, step-by-step, or through aerial or satellite imagery. Creating the physical maps or PDF files took time, and could therefore cause delays while field crews waited for information that could quickly become out of date. The 2D maps made it difficult for high-level decision makers and others to understand the context of assets or clearing areas without the benefit of 3D topography. Particularly for the Solomon mine, Fortescue’s newest project, accurate 3D visualisation is essential due to its locale in some of Australia’s roughest terrain.
Fortescue wanted to remove information silos and make geospatial information available to all departments as well as field personnel to reduce delays. “We needed to improve efficiency across the board by enabling everyone to visualise and verify 3D geospatial information on their own and get to work straightaway, instead of waiting for GIS specialists to create paper maps or PDFs,” says Roestenburg.
Google Earth has eliminated information silos and made people proud because they have ownership over GIS information. We see 3D geospatial visualisations everywhere now: in presentations, success stories – Google Earth is unique, user-friendly, and fun – and that’s wonderful!
Adam Roestenburg, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) administrator, Fortescue Metals Group Ltd
Google Earth Enterprise
For Roestenburg, the choice was easy. He wanted to bring the world’s most powerful yet intuitive 3D visualisation technology – Google Earth Enterprise – into Fortescue to facilitate dispersed mining efforts.
As Roestenburg notes, Fortescue are experts at mining ore. Google’s job is to spin up big data centres, and put rigor around security. “The cloud is the future of IT services within the resources sector,” Roestenburg says. “We need to focus on our core competencies, as Google does on theirs.
From an operational standpoint, people in the field have the information they need at their fingertips to get things done, without waiting for maps or PDF files. Using software, they can turn virtual layers, such as those for heritage sites or flora and fauna, on or off to get a complete picture. Google Earth Enterprise has proven to be such a universal, transferrable solution that departments of many different skill sets and responsibilities, from corporate communications to business management, are tapping into its capabilities.
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