Even before the boom Australia was always a fairly high cost country for the mining industry.
This remains the case for much of the sector following the boom's downwards slide.
Much of this is due to the sheer scale of the industry, which requires massive pieces of machinery and equipment, where ten kilometres of conveyors is not an unusual occurrence.
One area where many miners are looking to reduce costs is through modularisation.
In an effort to cut the high costs of installation typically found in Australia, the Fortescue Metals Group looked towards modularisation as a measure to slash costs as well as installation times by using pre-assembled conveyor transfer chutes at its Solomon Hub iron ore project.
The Solomon Hub is the latest development project for Fortescue, consists of the Firetail and Kings mines, and is believed to hold more than three billion tonnes of resources at the site. FMG approached Terra Nova Technologies, who worked on the outsourcing of its assembly transfer chutes and towers to third party companies.
One company, M&J Engineering, won the contract to supply Weba Chute systems to the project.
Earthworks started in 2011, with greenfields construction work undertaken to develop the 60 million tonne per annum, $3.5 billion operation which already has two OPFs, three crushing hubs, a 125 MW dual fuel power station (which was recently part of a massive gas supply agreement), its own airstrip, and three accommodation camps.
The installation finished late last year.
The seven Weba Chute Systems transfer chutes were designed, engineered, and manufactured in South Africa by M&J Engineering to FMG's precise specifications.
Four of the transfer chutes were specifically designed to cater for heavy overrun conditions, with a required storage capacity of up to 30 cubic metres of ore.
"We achieved this by utilising a sophisticated and unique designed considered to be a first in transfer chute technology," M&J Engineering managing director Mark Baller said.
"The chute was fitted with an air cannon system to ensure that bulk flow was achieved once the system was restarted. By incorporating block chute detectors in the chutes, we can confirm that the chutes have completely emptied before the incoming belts are restarted."
The remaining three chutes are normal belt to belt transfer points that are capable of handling tonnages varying from 4500 tonnes per hour up to 7400 tonnes per hour on belt widths of 1400 millimetres and 1800 millimetres travelling at speeds up 4.6 metres per second.
Four of the chutes are fully operational and the last three chutes are currently being commissioned.
The whole structure uses 8000 tonnes of steel and has 17 900kW of power.
Regarding the modularisation, he added "we trial assembled the chutes and shipped them to the steel fabricator Best Tech & Engineering in Thailand".
"The steel fabricator was responsible for pre-installation of the chutes into the transfer towers which had been fabricated by them.
"Once the assembly was completed the transfer tower, together with the chute and all ancillary equipment, was shipped fully assembled to Western Australia [where] it was offloaded at the docks and transferred to roadtrains for transportation to the mine," he said.
The chutes are designed to provide a reduction in material degradation, reduced levels of dust and noise, reduced production losses owing to fewer blockages, and reduced spillage, as well as improved safety levels.
"The critical factor in this project was the ability to provide a product that could be remotely assembled then shipped in its final configuration to a destination on another continent," Baller said.
"The cost savings achieved by FMG by adopting this philosophy are substantial and outline M&J Engineering's flexible approach to design and engineering."