Newcrest Lihir Gold Mine is a tropical open-cast mine in Papua New Guinea, operated by Newcrest Mining Ltd., one of the world's largest gold mining companies. Newcrest operates mines in four countries with a global workforce of over 16,000. Lihir Mine opened in 1996 and is one of the 15 largest gold mines in the world.
At only a couple of degrees south of the Equator, the mine is located in one of the harshest environments in the world – Lihir Island. The mine is subject to extreme levels of heat, humidity, moisture and dust as it is situated in the caldera of an extinct volcano that is geothermally active. In these harsh conditions they needed robust radio equipment and a communications system that would seamlessly link workers across the mine.
Since opening in 1996 (owned then by Rio Tinto), the mine has relied solely on Tait Communications for their critical communications throughout the mine and process plant.
Initially Tait supplied the mine with a 10 channel, single-site VHF Tait MPT 1327 trunked radio system installed at Kapit Ridge – a site that provided coverage for the entire mine's operational area. The design and construction of the system was engineered and constructed by local Tait dealer, PBS Communications Ltd.
It was also important that the system design allowed for system expansion to adapt with the mine as it grew and requirements changed.
In 2010 Newcrest Mining Ltd purchased the mine and the new ownership brought with it new requirements. The system needed to expand to cater for the general production facility US$4.9 Billion expansion and there was also some PNG landowner issues relating to Kapit Ridge.
Newcrest wanted the new system sites to be located within the Mining Lease to reduce the possibility of further ownership issues on the land. They decided to change the single site system to a four-site system to provide the same coverage that the existing elevated site provided. Across these four sites, 21 Tait TB8100 base stations with remote monitoring were installed, removing traffic congestion experienced on the previously overloaded system.
The existing PABX interconnect channels were used to provide inter-site audio connectivity with Omnitronics VoIP units connecting through the existing Newcrest IP system that consist of fiber optic and RF links that connect to all four sites.
A Tait system, in various forms, has been in operation at Lihir Mine since it first opened in 1996, which is testament to the satisfaction and acceptance of the Tait MPT 1327 system in this challenging mining environment.
The re-engineered system was commissioned in 2011 with over 1,100 tough Tait terminals (TP9300 and TP8140 portables and TM8000 mobiles) used by mine personnel. The purchase of 160 Tait TP9300 DMR Tier 3 portable radios in 2013 means Lihir Mine are even better prepared for an eventual migration from the analog MPT 1327 trunked system to a digital DMR Tier 3 trunked system.
Newcrest also have 19 conventional analog repeaters that cater for contractors and security on Lihir Island. Most terminal units on this system are Tait TM8110 VHF mobiles.
The sales, ongoing maintenance, and support for the system and terminal units is provided by PBS Communications.
Terry Griffiths, Director of PBS Communications, says, "I have been involved with the Lihir system for the past 18 years and during this time there have been a number of issues that have had the possibility to seriously affect the operation of the MPT network including lightning strikes, storm damage, power outages and IP network issues.
"Testament to the Tait system, the network has never been off-the-air completely due to the fact that there is no single point of failure in the MPT system. Inter-site links have been lost, and connection to the DAS and telephone interconnect lost, but the individual sites have kept operating; it's a very robust and well-engineered system.
"A great majority of faults have been resolved online via Newcrest VPN thus saving time and travel to the site," concluded Mr Griffiths.
Mr Griffiths maintains and services the constant communication requirements for Lihir Mine and has been on 24/7 availability for the personnel at the mine since its inception in 1996.