Leader with an eye on innovation
Alex Brown’s job title may be senior geologist, but his role has evolved into one of technical innovator for his team.
From using a drone to capture high resolution images of the local terrain to tinkering with geographic information system (GIS) software, he is keen to explore new options.
“I try and push the boundaries of the things we do and the way we look at the data we collect,” Mr Brown said.
The Mount Isa resident is senior geologist for regional exploration with Glencore’s Mount Isa Mines.
He started out with MIM as a graduate in 2009 after completing his honours degree at James Cook University with what was then Xstrata Copper.
“I progressed to project exploration geologist and the like, working on various projects for MIM – mostly in the Cloncurry district, but also in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory,” he said.
That role meant a fly-in, fly-out lifestyle out of Townsville for seven years. But Mr Brown and his partner, an engineer, are now both living in Mount Isa.
His adoption of technology in his work as a geologist was highlighted in a paper that earned him the Best Presenter Award at AusIMM’s annual regional mining conference in Cloncurry last year, offering a practical perspective on the use of drones in exploration.
“Over the last 12 months or so I have been developing capability in our department for using drones for various tasks,” Mr Brown said.
Mr Brown said his use of drones was inspired others’ presentations at conferences in 2015 and 2016.
“That got me interested enough to buy a machine myself to play around with and see what they were like to fly and what sort of photographs I could get,” he said.
“After playing around with that for a while and seeing what they could do in my own time, I put a case forward to our group here. They thought it was worth giving a crack and we have gone from there.”
The exploration team has found drone technology useful for mapping and high-resolution 3D terrain modelling.
“We generally have access to data down to a 30m grid size, whereas with the drone we can get that down to less than half a metre,” Mr Brown said.
An example of where it has been especially useful is in providing realistic modelling of cliffs and pit wall faces which would previously have been inaccessible.
Mr Brown is also focused on making the most of XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence) spectrometer capabilities on the job.
“A lot of the work I’ve been doing is more about understanding exactly how robust the data is that we can get out of them and what are the key factors that affect that,” he said.
Drill site procedures were being modified to incorporate on-site XRF use – resulting in significant savings in assay costs.
“It allows the geologist to make informed decisions on the current drill hole in real time,” Mr Brown said. “Do we need to continue further than originally planned because we’re getting promising results at the bottom of the hole? Or to give them the confidence to say that ‘no’ we can stop and move on to the next one.”
Indicative results from the XRF allowed the exploration teams to sample drill holes more thoroughly in promising zones as they were sending less samples away overall on average, he said.
Another area of interest is GIS or 3D software packages, and helping others in the team to use them to learn more about their data.
“One thing I’ve been using and encouraging other people to use is a new GIS package called QGIS, which is an open-source GIS platform – so it has a great deal of flexibility, and I’ve done some programming to create extensions that solve specific problems we have,” Mr Brown said.
Developing expertise in such areas is an extension to Mr Brown’s original geology qualifications, which he says is aided by underlying interest in technology and a workplace that gives him scope to investigate and apply its potential.Less