By 2018, West Cumbria Mining (WCM) are looking to provide the steel industry both at home and overseas with a UK mined supply of high quality coking coal. Before this can happen, several feasibility studies and coal quality tests need to be carried out to confirm the project viability.
Since 2014, WCM have been busy undertaking a programme of coal exploration, onshore and offshore and have proven the presence of high quality steel making coal with very attractive properties.
One of the feasibility studies currently being undertaken is off-shore, on a jack-up barge platform situated approximately 2km off the coast at St. Bees. WCM contacted David Allen IT Solutions to provide a wireless connectivity solution for the barge, so that the 20 staff on board could remain connected to the outside world during their shifts, which can mean they’re on ship for up to two weeks at a time.
Connectivity is important to WCM as it allows for study data results to be sent electronically back to the shore. It also allows employees to communicate with family and friends using social media whilst on board.
David Allen IT Solutions have been involved with the concept and design of the wireless solution over the past few months and last week I embarked on board the barge to begin the implementation.
On a sunny Wednesday morning, I arrived at the onshore meeting point where I took a boat with a safety crew, geologist and electrician out to the barge. After loading all of my IT equipment into the boat, we set sail out to the barge. I hadn’t considered how we would get from the boat to the barge, so it came as a surprise to see a cage secured and manoeuvred by a crane as our transport vehicle. We entered the cage in groups of four and were then lifted on board the barge by the crane. Far from my typical start to a working day!
On-board I then commenced the deployment of our Wi-Fi solution to the barge, positioning a wireless access point in the main WCM office. The access point ran back to an on-board data cabinet which was then connected to a new satellite broadband solution provided by Europasat.
Within several hours, the base of the solution was fully custom-built with all the staff on-board delighted with the internet connectivity now available. Having spent a couple of weeks on-board the barge with no external connectivity (even mobile phone signal is extremely poor), having the ability to now communicate and the facility to stream movies in their rest periods was invaluable.
As I was busy packing up for the day the barge master informed me that due to a change in the weather and to ensure my safety they would be unable to operate the crane and therefore an overnight stay maybe on the cards.
Thankfully now having connectivity on-board was a blessing not only to the WCM team, but also to me as I was able to communicate with the office using Skype for Business and from there could re-arrange all meetings I had planned. I could fully operate from my secure encrypted VPN connection back to our datacentre and more importantly I could make an internet call to my wife to explain the situation that I would not be back home that evening!
One of the advantages of running a successful IT company is that the infrastructure we have built allows us to work from any location, including the middle of the sea.
On-board the barge, which is approximately 46 meters x 30 metres in size, there is some small cabin style bedrooms, a toilet, shower and a mess room for meals. I was well looked after and received a delicious meal prepared by the catering crew before I settled down for the night.
The next day (Thursday), the weather worsened, strong winds prevented the crane being used to lower us to our boat, so I set to work extending the Wi-Fi to the crew quarters, much to the joy of those on-board. This led to a day of tracing wiring, diagramming the full network layout and using all the technical tricks in the book to get Wi-Fi signal across four levels of steel clad accommodation. Engaging with the providers of the barge to get authorisation for network changes was an interesting one, due to the number of languages spoken on-board. After the day’s work, meals were again prepared and I made further calls over the internet to my wife and daughter, who were both obviously missing me by now, or so they told me! I settled down for another night at sea.
On Friday morning things looked much more hopeful, the wind had dropped and the barge master informed us that the boat would be coming to my rescue early in the afternoon. I filled the morning by working with the electrician on-board to transfer my knowledge of the system to an onsite member of the team. I was incredibly relieved when at 2pm we were lifted from the barge in a cage to the boat.
It was a great project and not a typical IT project but it just goes to show how important connectivity is these days. Had I not had internet access, my ability to help the office with support calls, communicate with family and work colleagues and generally keep a sane state of mind would have been difficult.
WCM are extremely pleased with the solution David Allen IT Solutions has provided, the working atmosphere on-board the barge is now much improved and we looking forward to working with them further on future projects.
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Further information on WCM can be found on: http://www.westcumbriamining.com