February 2010

Student Life

Where to start? At the beginning, of course!

By I. Farmer

A young engineer-to-be achieves invaluable insights at a new mining project


Iain Farmer

As a mining student, I have always been impressed by the scope of mining projects. They are typically large and complex, and each one is fraught with unique challenges. Identifying and resolving them is the main focus of the mining engineer.

While challenges can arise at any time during a mine’s life, they are most far-reaching and important at the beginning. If the scale of a project is set too large or too small, there are inadequate returns. If challenges are not identified, efficient production cannot be attained. It is therefore imperative that the right decisions are made at the onset.

Joining a project in its early stages of development allows a student to understand what it takes to create a functioning mine. I believe it to be of the utmost importance for mining students to realize that decisions made at the beginning of a project have the greatest impact on its final results.

Last summer, I acquired these insights first-hand while working for Osisko Mining Corporation. As an emergent mine developer with 100 per cent ownership of the evolving Canadian Malartic property, Osisko was an ideal employer for a mining student learning the ropes. The Canadian Malartic property, located 25 kilometres east of Val-d’Or, Quebec, will eventually boast the largest open pit gold mine in Canada. I was therefore sure that working on the project would provide me with a unique perspective on mine development, pre-production needs and the challenges they entail.

At Osisko, I was constantly given the opportunity to move to different areas to see how things were being accomplished and to help out in small ways in each area. From dispatch systems and site preparation to drill rigs and mill piping, I saw what is involved in building a project. I also learned a lot about the technical knowledge needed to make good decisions on various issues.

I have enjoyed many advantages working for an emerging company like Osisko. Thanks to my summer experience, I now realize the extent of the engineering involved in a project, the different disciplines needed to carry it out and the importance of proper planning. I already knew that every mine needs production to generate profit. What I didn’t think much about was the pre-project planning and decision-making required to maximize profits and minimize setbacks.

As students and junior engineers, we are expected to learn many things academically and practically. Yet, we rarely get a chance to achieve a full-scale perspective on any project, unless we take the initiative to step back and take a good look. It is vital for us to develop a proper respect for and understanding of the planning and implementation stages. It is the only way to fully appreciate how a project takes shape and why things are done as they are.

Employers should strive to give their young employees a global view of an operation, so that they may cultivate an appreciation for the project’s goals and potential risks. To keep its international reputation and competitive edge, the Canadian mining industry needs engineers whose knowledge is as comprehensive as it is practical. To fit the bill, we mining engineering students must understand how projects are conceived and implemented at the beginning.

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