Down in the Dirt – A Comprehensive History of Mining

(Guest Post by www.tuffstuffaustralia.com.au)

For almost as long as we’ve mucking about with tools, humans have been using them to dig things out of the ground. The only difference between now and 40 000 years ago is that we’ve dug enough things out of the ground by now to make much, MUCH bigger tools to do it with.

The oldest mines ever discovered are in Swaziland and Hungary, built by humans and Neanderthals respectively. These simple holes in the ground were probably built with little more than stone tools. Today, ginormous machines such as the Bucket Wheel Excavator tear the ground asunder in the quest to procure ever more minerals from the ground. But how did we get from one situation to the other? Well wonder no more, for here is a brief history of mining equipment and techniques, as well as a look at where the industry is headed into the future.

Beginnings

Beginnings
Beginnings

Mining has historically been known as a dangerous occupation. While that stigma is no longer as true as it once was, in the early days of the industry it was a reputation well deserved. Early peoples in ancient Egypt and other places were chiefly concerned with getting what they needed from the earth: the safety of the miners themselves was of little importance.

Mining has a long history in Egypt, from simple sifting of shale deposits to extensive vein mines and full scale quarrying operations. The Great Pyramids of Giza are by far the most famous feature of the country, and their construction necessitated massive quarrying of granite. Ancient Egypt was one of the most prolific mining nations of the ancient world, and certainly one of the earliest to do so on such a huge scale.

Humans must be part mole, because even as far back as the ancient Egyptians we were burrowing into the earth, not just scraping around on top of it. The Egyptians used two primary mining techniques, open cast and underground, both of which are still used today. Early underground mines were incredibly dangerous but the value of metal in the desert meant the Egyptians were willing to take the risk. Even if the workers themselves may not have been , their superiors and overseers certainly were.

One of the earliest and most enduring mining techniques was known as fire-setting, in which the rock to be removed was heated with fire and then quickly doused with water. This caused the rock to weaken and crack, making the excavation process much easier. This method endured well into the middle ages, being a staple of the industry for thousands of years before explosives and mechanical excavation equipment made the process redundant.

Romans were also prolific miners, and like in all aspects of their culture they were very good at what they did. Like the Egyptians, Romans undertook both open cut and shaft mining. They had a very good understanding of the dangers of searching for ore underground and designed technologies to combat them. Some of these were quite ingenious.

Water, for example, was a constant concern in underground mines, especially when underground rivers, streams and springs were encountered. In less severe cases workers would simply fill large buckets which were then winched to the surface, bailing out the water. For situations where water was a more pressing problem, the Romans used more advanced methods including the Archimedes Screw and man powered water wheels.

The Romans also understood the dangers of stale air and a lack of ventilation. They designed their mines to be as well ventilated as possible, with shafts leading to galleries from which the ore was obtained. The galleries were propped up with wooden bracing or unmined stone, and the Romans were so adamant about trying to keep the mines safe that there was a penalty of death for anyone who mined away these supporting stones. Still, accidents were a constant risk and there is a lot of archaeological evidence of miners who never returned to the surface.

The Middle Ages

The Middle Ages
The Middle Ages

During the middle ages iron was perhaps the most sought after metal and was extensively mined. People were hell bent on having wars at the time and with vast armies needing to be equipped there was constant demand for the material. As ever, gold and silver were also highly desirable, to the point that the technology of the day could not keep up with demand, resulting in the Silver Crisis of the mid 15th century.

The Middle Ages are known as a time of technological and social stagnation but that wasn’t necessarily the case for the mining industry. The age old problem of ventilation at deep levels was largely solved with the introduction of water powered mills which could power bellows and aerate the shafts. These water wheels were also used to crush and raise ore, being essentially a more powerful and efficient version of the people powered wheels of the Roman era.

By the end of the middle ages, even the issue of water flooding was being solved, as mechanically driven pumps helped to extract it far more efficiently than Screws or buckets ever could. In the 17th century one of the biggest advancements in mining occurred, with the introduction of explosives. Fire setting was made redundant immediately, and the size of mines and the places they could be constructed was massively expanded.

Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution

Mining had always been dangerous, but during the industrial revolution it took on almost ridiculous levels of risk. Not only did the occupation become more dangerous, but working conditions were incredibly poor and low income workers were regularly abused and taken advantage of.

Despite the advancements in technology, mining had become a greater hardship than ever before. This was thanks to the unprecedented demand for coal that the industrial revolution led to. Before, coal had been useful really only for heating, but with the advent of the steam engine and coal fired power stations, suddenly it was a source of power and a desperately needed resource for pretty much everyone.

In reality, the technology behind underground mining was no more dangerous than in the past, but it was the extent to which the new mines were built that created the danger. Coal mines now extended for miles underground, deeper and longer by far than they had ever been before. Every danger that had already been present was amplified tenfold. Gas pockets, suffocation, flooding, collapse and explosions were a constant fear.

A dearth of labour laws meant that employers could pay their workers pretty much whatever the liked, make them work for as long as they wanted and employ people of all ages. Economic destitution meant there were all too many desperate people out there who were willing to work themselves, sometimes literally, to death for the pittance they were payed. Children, pregnant women as well as men of all ages died in droves in the mines until parliament finally stepped in in the mid 19th century.

Despite the horrific working conditions, the industrial revolution was nevertheless a period of great advancement for the mining industry. Inventions such as the steam engine made mining more efficient than ever, and as engines of all kinds became commonplace, the rate at which ore could be removed and returned to the surface increased exponentially. There were also significant safety improvements, with the invention of ignition proof lamps and gas removal technologies. Though they made mining safer, it remained highly dangerous work.

Eventually, the industrial revolution drove an economic boom which resulted in the creation of a middle class, which led in turn to labour unions and the modern workplace as we know it today, not just in the mining industry but society wide.

The Modern World

The Modern World
The Modern World

The same two forms of mining which have existed since ancient times, underground and surface mining, are still the predominant types around today. That said, the technology used in each has undergone monumental changes in the past century or so. Humans have slowly been supplanted by the machines they have created, and today a miner is more likely to operate a piece of heavy machinery than a pick axe.

Excavators, all the way from humble diggers to the mammoth bucket wheel excavators, chew through rock and soil at incredible speed, while the ore is removed by dump trucks larger than houses.

One of the most important improvements in mining is the vastly improved safety record. Improvements in technology have allowed humans to take a step back from the literal coal face, handing off some of the riskiest jobs to machines. Safety standards have also developed greatly: where once a mine collapse was a constant risk and common occurrence, today such an event is a rarity that attracts worldwide attention when and if it does occur.

Mining is an enormous industry, only becoming more critical as humanity’s standards of living increase and our population grows ever larger. Fossil fuels are still by far the most common form of energy production in the world today, and it’s through mining that they’re obtained to run our cars, lights, factories and electric moustache trimmers. One thing that continually stops mining is the need for replacement parts in this harsh environment for the under carriage. Rubber track parts Melbourne is the place to go for your part needs.

With the increased demand for mined ores however has can come an increased realisation of the environmental effects our never ending quest to wrest minerals from the earth can have. This has created much controversy in the modern world, as concern for the world we live one wrestles against the march of progress.

Into the Future

Into the Future
Into the Future

As long as humans are around, it’s unlikely that mining will ever go away. As we gradually exhaust reserves of certain fossil fuels and move towards renewable energies for power we will probably see a reduction in mining for certain materials, yet there will always be a demand for others.

Technology wise, as in any other aspect of our lives, we will no doubt see ever improving techniques introduced. Robotic machines which can perform almost all the tasks humans can will eventually become commonplace, to the point where people may simply need to sit on the surface as overseers, directing the work below from complete safety.

It can be hard to see too far into the future, but who is to say where we may one day find ourselves? If space exploration becomes commonplace and easy, then we may expand our mining efforts to different planets, perhaps even solar systems. Maybe one day we’ll find a way to mine a sun of its hydrogen, or excavate a planet for its diamonds? The possibilities are endless. One thing is without doubt however: as long as we keep advancing, keep creating and keep learning, we are going to need the resources the universe has provided us, and we’ll get them with mining, of some sort. Mining is tuff so is www.tuffstuffaustralia.com.au for all your earthmoving part needs.

Is Engineering Overrated?

Engineering is one of the most popular degrees Australian school leavers opt to go into. Engineers have traditionally been in high demand, but as the field becomes saturated with graduates some are finding it difficult to get the high paying job they were promised with such a prestigious degree. In Australia, universities are pumping out more graduates in all areas than ever before. Whether you’re a structural engineer Brisbane, a civil engineer in Sydney or an electrical engineer in Melbourne, the job market can be a scary thing to consider.

With this in mind, we take a look at whether or not engineering is really the coveted profession we believe it to be.

What Does an Engineer Do?

“Engineer” is a pretty broad term. Someone who calls themselves an engineer could design bridges, build rockets, study the environment, or do virtually anything else in between. As long as it involves science, maths and problem solving, it’s probably a facet of engineering.

Because engineering is such a broad profession, there are a lot of jobs which fall within its classification.

Engineers are responsible for some crazy cool stuff!
Engineers are responsible for some crazy cool stuff!

When answering the question, what does an engineer do, the easiest answer to give is: everything.

Engineers, in some capacity, are responsible for more or less every modern facility we enjoy. Most everything you use in a day, from paper coffee cups to toasters to cars, owe their existence to an engineer. Engineers concern themselves with solving problems and filling unfilled niches.

Why Engineering is Overrated

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons people give for why engineering is an overrated profession. Before you write an angry comment, keep in mind we’re just outlining some arguments: we’re not saying they’re right or not. We’ll discuss the merits of these arguments later in the article.

  • There’s too many: Some people say engineering is an oversaturated industry with few job prospects for new graduates.
  • The standard is lowering: With more graduates, naturally, more people who don’t deserve to be at uni are going into engineering. Why should we respect an industry that’s dumbing down?
  • There aren’t any jobs: Too many graduates equals not enough jobs to go round.
  • It’s too difficult: Unless you’re a maths genius, there’s no point even trying. Engineering is just too hard for the average person.

Is Engineering Oversaturated?

Okay, let’s take a look at that first point. Are there too many engineers about? Yes and no. There are an awful lot of engineering graduates being churned out by our universities, and some of them struggle to find work. However, that isn’t really an issue with engineering itself as it is an issue with higher education in general.

final

More people, vastly more, are going on to university from school these days. However, jobs haven’t changed nearly so much. While there are more jobs that require degrees than in the past, the fact is there are more people going to university than there are jobs in the fields they’re studying for.

With such a large baby boomer population still working, many freshly minted graduates have to occupy themselves with waiting tables or brewing coffee until a position opens up in their field.

Having a degree is no longer the ticket to a job or the symbol of elitism it once was, but it’s more essential than ever before. Since so many people are getting a degree these days, not having one puts you at a greater disadvantage than in the past. Your grade point average is often more important than the degree itself.

With more graduates than ever before, there is something of an oversaturation within the engineering industry. However, compared to some industries, it isn’t too bad. In fact, there is actually quite a severe shortage of engineers with 5 or more years’ experience. If you can graduate with a high GPA, or if you have the experience, then there will likely be great clamour for you services.

Is Engineering Dumbing Down?

dunce

his is an easy one to answer. No! There may be more engineering graduates around than before, but that’s just because there are more people going to uni than before.

Engineering has the same standards that it always did, and the fact remains that over half of people who start an engineering degree, never even graduate. That shows the standards the industry holds.

Are There Too Few Jobs?

Hang on, didn’t we cover this when we talked about oversaturation? Sort of, but there’s a bit more to it. The idea that there isn’t enough jobs to go around is partly true, for the reasons we talked about before. However, there’s another aspect to take into account, and that’s job security.

Engineering, unlike many jobs in business or the arts, is largely recession proof. Civil engineers especially enjoy very high job security. Why? Because people always need infrastructure. Bridges, roads, skyscrapers, houses: all these projects require a civil engineer to construct and the technology they use is designed by mechanical engineers.

With the mining boom Australia has been enjoying, engineers have been in very high demand. As the boom slows, the government will look to infrastructure to stimulate the economy, which will bring engineering jobs with it. As other industries rise and fall, engineers will always be required, as their skills are transferred from niche to niche.

The great advantage of being an engineer is that you’re always needed.

Is Engineering Just Too Hard?

too-hard

There’s no doubt about it, engineering is difficult. No-one should go into engineering without being fully aware that doing so will require full time commitment. Over half of first years who begin the degree will drop out or change majors before they get the little slip of paper. Why would you throw money away on a degree you’ll never finish?

Deciding whether or not you’re cut out for engineering requires an understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses. While a tertiary entrance score is a good indicator on whether you’ve got what it takes, it isn’t the be all and end all.

There are plenty of people out there who have got into engineering by the skin of their teeth and gone on to be fantastic at it, and plenty who have breezed in on a high entrance score and promptly dropped out. More important than your academic record is whether or not you have an inventive flair and a willingness to put in hours of work. If you don’t, you should probably look elsewhere.

Why Engineering Isn’t Overrated

For every argument against engineering as a profession, there’s one on the opposite side of the fence. Now that we’ve taken a thorough look at some of the reasons you might want to be wary of an engineering degree, let’s take a look at why you might want to jump right in.

  • Engineering pays well: Engineering is difficult, but it pays off with a great paycheck. Engineers are rich.
  • Engineers are important: By becoming an engineer, you’d be joining an illustrious profession with an impressive history of innovation.
  • Engineering is rewarding: When you’re working to solve mankind’s problems, job satisfaction must be through the roof!

Engineering Pays Well

wages

This isn’t a myth, engineering is certainly a high paying job. The average engineer in Australia earns a very respectable $129,000. Some, such as a structural engineer in Brisbane will earn more than the mean salary, while others such as an automotive engineer in Rockhampton will earn less.

Of course, starting wages for graduates aren’t nearly as impressive, but they are still generally much higher than starting wages in other industries. However, engineers certainly study and work hard for their money: it isn’t an easy job. There is no doubt though that the financial rewards can be very good.

Engineers are Important

This is the biggest thing to keep in mind when asking whether or not engineering is overrated. Virtually every invention in existence was designed, built, or at least improved by an engineer. And even if it wasn’t, its construction and design still would have involved engineering principles.

Engineers built the modern world, and their contributions surround every facet of our existence. Not every engineer will be responsible for an incredible innovation, but every incredible innovation owes its existence to an engineer in some capacity.

Engineering is Rewarding

rewardsEngineering can be one of the most rewarding careers out there, especially if you see your ideas and designs come to fruition. On a list of the top 7 rewarding careers, two engineering disciplines featured. That’s pretty impressive!

However, though the work may be rewarding, job satisfaction is not quite so through the roof. This list implies that mechanical engineers only enjoy a job satisfaction rate of 62.8%. That’s better than many other jobs, but it’s lower than quite a few as well. Still, engineering is still extremely rewarding and relatively satisfying when compared to most careers.

So… Is Engineering Overrated or Not?

The facts seem to show that engineering really isn’t an overrated degree to pursue. As long as you have the ability and willingness to understand high mathematics and the drive to get good grades, engineering could very likely be for you. Engineering isn’t overrated as it still offers one of the highest starting salaries, excellent room for growth, high job satisfaction and a relatively high recent graduate hire rate.

If you’re looking for a Brisbane based structural engineer , then visit the experienced team at Incode Engineers.