2016-10-20

Drill & blast wizardry in Australia

Some people refer to him as the Wizard – “What he does shouldn’t be possible!”

When the Swede Rauf Osterman arrived in Brisbane in 2004, he already brought a wealth of experience in advanced drilling and blasting from the tunnelling, construction and mining industries. In short, he knows what he is doing.

The sole inventor of patented methods such as circular pre-split rise and vertical string charging, Mr Osterman has pioneered a wide range of new concepts down under. Based in Brisbane, he operates a consultancy company, Osterman Consulting, specialising in advanced blasting solutions.

Hi Rauf. First things first, some people refer to you as the “the Wizard”. Why?

Ha ha, not sure, it may have something to do with my party tricks? No. I suppose it may be because I have the firm belief that there’s no situation in which hard rock cannot be removed via blasting. With the right experience, technical knowledge and control everything is possible. This belief combined with, I humbly suppose, my creative nature has resulted in some complex D&B projects that I’m very proud of.

“There is no situation in which hard rock cannot be removed via blasting.

Could you give us an example of such a project?

One very recent example would have to be the blasting works that we did for the excavation of the Barry Parade project. The previous site law for the project had determined that one third of the rock right up against two heritage listed buildings could not be blasted. The rest could only be blasted using 5kgs MIC, or Max Instantaneous Charge. We managed to use 23kgs MIC within the “no blast” zone and 6kgs right up against the Heritage listed buildings.

Although my favourite environmentally restraint job of all time must be the Pir F blasting at Stockholm’s International Airport

What did you do before you landed in Brisbane?

I spent 11 good years at Nitro Consult in Stockholm being involved in many complex and very interesting projects. I have also worked as a construction manager at two of Sweden’s largest tunnelling projects, the Southern Link and Citybanan.

Why Australia? And, why Brisbane? 

Two words, weather and lifestyle. But the result of living and working here has been a sharp learning curve into D&B in the Australian Mining Industry. My inquisitive nature and never-ending thirst for knowledge has resulted in rich experience in all forms of mining, surface coal as well as surface and underground hard rock mining.

How would you describe your business here? What do you do, exactly, and for whom? 

My love for tunnelling and construction, and the environmental challenges, have resulted in heavy involvement in urban projects. I also have a large client base in the mining industry, but in recent years there has been a decline in the Australian mining industry. Most of my clients are civil contractors and mining companies.

How does Australian D&B compare with, say European D&B? What are the main differences? 

Mining in Australia is a significant primary industry, and Australia is a technical leader in regards to mining methodologies, always looking for technical solutions to improve productivity.

Conversely, and for similar reasons, Drill & Blast in tunnelling and construction, is not as advanced as in Sweden. Because there are less opportunities, and also because the tunnelling and construction culture here has always been scared of D&B. It was never seen as the primary alternative.

In contrast the Swedish bedrock is predominantly made up of Granite, a very hard rock type that requires blasting to be removed. This means that almost every form of excavation requires blasting, which has resulted in a wealth of knowledge and experience in urban rock blasting. Experience that I am applying here, trying to change the Australian tunnelling and construction culture.

What about environmental monitoring, I’m thinking of noise and vibrations?

The rich blasting culture in Sweden that started with Alfred Nobel has resulted in the most technically advanced environmental monitoring and management systems. Systems  that I have also introduced into the Australian market.

…the most technically advanced monitoring and management system

Instinctively I would say that Australian engineering is heavily reliant on software modelling for design. Swedish concept puts a large amount of trust in the engineers’ and consultants’ experience and gut feel. Software is only used to supplement the experience.

I understand that you have introduced some novel concepts and methods to Australia? What’s your secret?

Some people think out of the box, I’m still looking for my box. Jokes aside,I take pride in  a creative and flexible approach to D&B. This often helps me see patterns beyond the obvious, solving larger problems by using a variety of concrete ideas or clues.

Throughout my career this approach has helped me to find alternative and improved solutions to problems. Which, in turn, has resulted in a number of patents, concepts, theories and trade secrets.

What about rules and regulations? Are they different too? 

The safety culture in Australia is very strong compared to Sweden where the word for safety induction does not even exist. Interestingly, this has not resulted in poorer safety statistics in Sweden but that’s a whole topic on its own. I would say that Australia uses many more rules and regulations to govern its Industries.

How did the market react to your new ideas?

The mining industry is very conservative. Change interferes too much with production and can have expensive consequences if they don’t work. On the other hand I have been lucky enough to work with some very large clients that have been very pro-technology. People that are hungry to find new technical solutions to improve what they are doing. The most difficult part of what I do is not technical, it’s the people barrier.

Finally, what about your own life down under? Are you a full-fledged Aussie by now?

“Bloody Oath Mate”, and proud of it!