With demand for Australian resources gathering pace following a lessening of the global slowdown, the pressure on resource companies to ensure their operations and IT equipment are running with as much efficiency, effectiveness and as little down time as possible is heating up.
One company succeeding in this endeavour is engineering firm G&S Engineering.
According to the company's IT communications specialist, Graeme Lodge, in days gone by, IT experts would travel to mine sites in advance of engineers who were called out to do construction and maintenance to set up satellite facilities so they could access vital data and networked services. But it was a process that ate up valuable time, and that equated to a significant opportunity cost for the resource companies.
“Most of what we do is construction and maintenance in the mines, building the big drag lines and equipment they use to dig out the coal. Ninety per cent of our work generally happens on site. We do have big workshops in Biloela and Mackay (both in Queensland) where we can bring stuff back to but the sort of machinery we are talking about doesn’t leave mine sites,” Lodge said.
“The most common solution was probably the Telstra satellites we had running. We had our IT staff trained in deploying them because they had to go visit sites. We usually do most of our work in the Bowen basin near Mackay, so we would drive out, spend a day and drive back the next day. You are talking at least overnight just to set it up. Then you had to coordinate them with the various jobs starting at various times. We had six of them at any one time running concurrently.”
G&S has an average of 900 to 1000 staff at any one time, depending on the number of projects running and contractors required, with the majority operating in the field across the country. When staff used satellites they would send the IT guys out first to set up a dish and the IT equipment in a temporary building.
“The way we usually operate for these construction jobs is to take a portable building, a few containers of equipment and drop them in the middle of the field, usually near the equipment we are about to work on," Lodge said.
The satellite connection, however, would only offer data transfer speeds of 800kbs down and 128kbs up. Plus, the satellites had high latency affecting the communications performance for end users. As a result, only one or two people would be able to use it full time in order to get decent performance, Lodge said.
So a little over 12 months ago, the G&S IT team decided to look at solutions to reduce the time it took to get the engineers up and running with faster connectivity.
“We’ve evolved and have basically moved into using NextG routers and modems," Lodge said. "We’ve built our own Comms Kit, as we call it. In it we have a box with two NextG modems, one with a wireless access point built into it, a site server, a couple of spare switches, a ups and all the basic gear you need. It all fits inside one of the galvenised toolboxes."