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Observations of a shotfirer

Posted by Andrea Lewis

Written by Ross Fernihough, Trainer Assessor Drilling and Shotfiring, Rio Tinto, Paraburdoo

The third trial blasts yielded the rounded shape to be used in the final sculpture, which will now need to be reproduced on a larger scale.The third trial blasts yielded the rounded shape to be used in the final sculpture, which will now need to be reproduced on a larger scale.

I got involved in the FIVE project when Alex raised the concept of forming and shaping steel with the explosives used for blasting the rock at the Paraburdoo mine. Initially my thoughts were: “You have to be kidding!” Then, when the General Manager Scott Wilkinson gave the idea the go-ahead, I got a bit excited. Here was the opportunity to get involved with a process that very few people have the opportunity to do.

Obviously the use of explosives is highly regulated and after a few phone calls to make sure that we were not going to be breaking any regulations, we got to it. The blast plan we developed also made sure we were working within appropriate parameters.

As none of us had done anything like this before, the first trail blasts gave us an indication of how much explosive product we needed to get the desired results. By doing numerous small experimental blasts of various amounts of explosives, we created several successful pieces shaped and formed. Because what we are doing is so unusual, we decided that a series of smaller blasts would help us to see what was feasible – and if it was even possible to do what Alex had in mind!

One of the most successful trials was created by one of our trainee shotfirers when we had some leftover steel plates and we asked the team to get creative and see what they could come up with. The end result of that trial has now become the base of the final artwork but will be re-created on a much larger scale. 

We have tried to have different people on each trial. Most of them have been Blast Crew personnel because we are using explosives, and it has been interesting to get some feedback from them after the trials. We have sheduled the trial blasts around each of our four different blast crews so that each crew can be involved in the project by sharing their input and skills. All have been impressed with what they were doing and commented that they had learned a lot more about explosives than they would doing their normal duties.

Recently I was asked to help organise the next trial blast. This one has been a real eye opener. I didn’t appreciate how much effort was involved in getting the materials for the trial blasts ready. Thanks to the effort of the guys at the plant workshop for all their great work we are on schedule.

The trial blast we completed on the 21st of July – our third so far – was a great success as we got the shape we want for the final artwork. This has given us vital information to use when we create the full size forms for the actual artwork.

There is still a huge amount of work to be done to get the artwork complete. Alex has his work cut out but I am sure there are quite a few people who have been involved who will dig in and help out where we can.

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