Greg More O’Farrell is off to Vancouver, Canada, to serve as a rock mechanics manager for Wardrop Consultants. He looks forward to expanding Wardrop’s mining rock mechanics capacity internationally and looks back on slightly more than 15 happy and productive years in rock mechanics, mainly in Southern Africa. Here’s his farewell message to SANIRE members.

 

 

gregnorth
Standing from left to right: Les Gardner, Greg More O'Ferrall
I really appreciate the opportunity that I have been afforded to practice in the mining rock mechanics discipline in South Africa, and to contribute to the development of rock engineering personnel in the operations and consultancy in which I have worked.

The greatest high in my career has been the 10 years in which I have been able to contribute to SANIRE members, through my contributions to the newsletter, constitution, and examinations and as a committee member, president and past president.

I would like to thank you all for granting me these opportunities. I hope that you have as fruitful and enjoyable a career as I have had to date.

Operational rock engineer

After graduating with a BSc Mining Engineering degree, my then mentor on Vaal Reefs, John Carr, mentioned to me that I should not go into rock mechanics, but should stay on production.

After what appeared to be too many (at the time) years in the production environment, I was eventually “permitted” to join the Vaal Reefs Rock Mechanics department in June 1996. I received excellent rock mechanics training in shallow, intermediate depth and seismically active environments. However, I wanted to further my education, and was fortunate enough to be offered employment with Lonmin Platinum Limited in December 1998.

It was while working at Lonmin, which I did until May 2009, that I learnt the most in my rock engineering career. I worked with excellent rock engineering practitioners and got exposure to open pit, shallow, intermediate depth and steep mining environments.

During this period I got involved with SANIRE, first as the Secretary of the Bushveld Branch, and then as a member of the SANIRE Council. I was one of the co-founders of the Bushveld Rock Engineering Steering Committee (BRESC), the principal aim of which was to share and initiate/steer research, identify potential solutions to problems encountered in the Bushveld Complex mining operations and to facilitate accident investigations across the BRESC member groups. I hope that this group is still active and is meeting these aims in the same spirit.

Consulting rock engineer

In June 2009 I joined SRK Consulting in Johannesburg. The transition from a production to a consulting environment proved fairly difficult at first. Thanks to a great friend of mine, Prof Francois Malan, I persevered and still enjoy consulting. I have been an active team player in multi-disciplinary teams and have also had the opportunity to meet many geotechnical personnel on different operations.

Management or leadership

Providing leadership or management has probably been one of the toughest and most challenging aspects of my rock mechanics career to date. I was the Group Rock Engineer at Lonmin for a few years, the manager of the Mining Geotechnical Department at SRK for a year and president of Sanire for two years.

Each of these roles brought its own specific challenges, but by far the most challenging and rewarding has been people management. However, it came at a cost. On a managerial/leadership level, a fine balance has to be maintained between people management and technical development. Spending too much on the one negatively impacts the other.

Motivation

What I have thoroughly enjoyed about my career choice to date is the relatively new science of rock mechanics.

A young colleague of mine recently shared that he is frustrated in rock mechanics as there is no single formula for pillar design, no single solution to engineering-related problems, and so on. This is exactly what motivates me, as there are unique solutions to be derived for many rock engineering-related issues. Finding these solutions takes an exceptional understanding of the problem and the ability to derive a solution from engineering first principles.

Several people have been constant motivators for me in rock mechanics and mining, including my father, Roger More O’Ferrall, Prof Francois Malan (who is also my mentor for my PhD studies), Sir John Napier, Dr John Ryder, Dr Oscar Steffen, Peter Terbrugge and Roger Dixon. I hold all of them in very high esteem and I hope that many others will enjoy the opportunity of working with and learning from them.

Concerns

Unfortunately, over the past 30 months, I have had some experiences that cause me concern about the rock engineering discipline in South Africa (and it is most likely the same elsewhere).

Too many people consider rock engineering to be a computer-modelling and theory driven profession. The key to identifying relevant numerical models and their applications, as well as appropriate theoretical solutions, appears to have been lost in the industry.

Numerical models and various theories do have their applications in rock engineering, but caution must be exercised when considering the numerical solutions and the derivation, and hence the application, of the theories developed in rock mechanics.