Mario Theurl, Managing Director,
ZÜBLIN STRABAG CHILE
“No project should add digital tools just because they are digital – technology must fit the organization and our clients’ priorities.”
How would you evaluate the performance of Strabag and Züblin in Chile in 2021 and Q1 2022?
We have taken part in projects of the highest technical standard. Milestones such as the completion of the 74 km of tunnels of the Alto Maipo hydroelectric project, which is the largest project of our company to date, have allowed us to extend our scope in Chile and participate in projects such as the Horizonte Wind Farm in Tal Tal, where we took over the civil works, and the construction of a 673 m ventilation shaft in Chuquicamata, among many other.
The pandemic added other administrative challenges that impacted our business, such as logistics, shift planning, or tracing contagions among our 7,000 employees, but we managed these challenges in close collaboration with our clients and the quality of the works was not affected. I am convinced that our appreciation we show to our great teams with open, transparent communication and our customer centricity are keys to success, and it explicitly helps during a pandemic.
What are some of the technical challenges of working on large-scale projects such as Codelco’s El Teniente and Chuquicamata?
Currently the main challenges in these projects are related to geology, training and logistics. Risks related to rock burst or seismic activity are common in underground construction, which is why we have engaged in a tele-commanded machinery program in El Teniente, a mine which is particularly seismic, so we can operate machinery from outside of the tunnel, keeping our personnel safe. Also, providing training and inductions to thousands of people is a complex task. This includes maintaining the outstanding health and safety standard that we proudly hold today.
In the field of logistics, there are several different contractors working together in a limited underground area, usually using the same access tunnels. Addressing this requires good coordination among all contractors and the client.
In underground mining projects such as Chuquicamata and El Teniente we focused on exceeding the expected yields and rates, with all the interferences of working in a confined space. Yet we achieved monthly advance rates of up to 1,800 m in Chuquicamata and 900 m in El Teniente, even under the pandemic restrictions.
Can you give examples of the remotely operated equipment that is improving efficiency and safety at underground mining operations?
We have equipment to install mesh and bolts for fortification without people having to approach into areas without rock support, and we have equipment like remote controlled loaders to remove rocks from a recently blasted area. We also have a device that can enter the mine and take images to create a 3D model of the interior.
How is digitalization impacting the underground mining industry?
We are currently going through a big digitalization wave and a significant number of resources are coming to the market that simplify our jobs and raise productivity. I am convinced that in the long term, the megatrend of digitalization will give our industry the necessary and overdue boost to advance work processes and increase productivity hand in hand with the improvement of H&S standards. The challenge now is to evaluate these tools and find the right ones that can truly help to increase customer value, optimize operations and increase safety. Sometimes technologies are moving too fast for people to properly digitize their operations. I therefore believe it is important to increase our focus on selection of different digital tools and to look at what is really helping us, and then adopt the right developments for each operation. No project should add digital tools just because they are digital – technology must fit the organization and our clients’ priorities.
How is Züblin dealing with the challenge of attracting and retaining a skilled local workforce?
At Züblin we value diversity as much as we value skills. We are very proud to be an international and multicultural team because it allows us to share vast knowledge and many different points of view together. Our goal is to convene people that sharing this view and to concur with our Teams Work philosophy.
Our company provides continuous and focused training, aiming to prepare our teams for the present and for the future. These trainings include, among others, safety inductions, a variety of technical skills, machinery operation and lean construction.