Explosives manufacturer AEL Mining Services has, in partnership with the University of Pretoria (UP), launched the AEL Mining Services Chair in Innovative Rock Breaking Technology, which will reside within the Department of Mining Engineering at the university.
“Investing in education is at the forefront of our agenda as a business. This department produces high-calibre graduates and this partnership to grow our industry’s capabilities aligns with our business objectives,” AEL Mining Services MD Edwin Ludick says.
He further expresses his excitement at “joining forces” with UP to move forward in terms of research and development (R&D).
“The research will position AEL Mining Services to drive future trends in the industry and will establish UP as a centre of excellence in emerging rock-breaking technologies and related mining methods,” he says, adding that the company is open-minded about the future of mining.
While the mining engineering department has established a solid reputation in the South African mining industry, through its collaboration with AEL Mining Services, the partners will focus on three-dimensional blast simulation and the visualisation of new research and incorporating that research into blasting engineering practices.
Through the partnership, AEL Mining Services will also have access to the department’s facilities and will be in the best position to identify suitable undergraduate and postgraduate students.
The company’s close collaboration with the university and the students will facilitate collaboration with mines or access to areas for practical work. This collaboration will also contribute significantly to improving and expanding the existing laboratory facilities, as well as providing financial support through bursaries to students in need.
AEL Mining Services will provide significant financial support for the department and the Chair, which will run for three years. Focus areas will include the development of the Department of Mining Engineering’s virtual reality (VR) training material through the instructional design and inclusion of VR and augmented reality components, including consequence training – prototypes of training material chapters and VR examples.
VR-based training is a key focus for AEL Mining Services, as Ludick explains that the company will aim to train junior mining engineers on VR underground practices in a safe environment before they work underground.
Similarly, the company aims to implement VR training for mobile manufacturing unit drivers as part of a safety efficiency drive.
AEL Mining Services will further assist in the software development of blasting practices to gain VR-augmented experience, which the company is certain will yield incremental improvement on existing blasting practices to enhance AEL Mining Services’ technology leadership.
As Ludick believes the “ultimate goal of blasting and mining to be autonomous”, he emphasises the need to develop software from which blasting practices can be managed autonomously.
The project will further investigate additional game-changer projects, which would investigate novel concepts for future exploitation, Ludick says, noting that, even if blasting is implemented without traditional explosives, AEL Mining Services is open to investigating other technologies and will work with the university to explore the future of mining.
The aim of the first project to be executed under the auspices of the Chair will, however, be to determine safe blast-clearance radii for blasting. Ludick is confident that this project will pave the relationship for the company and the university.
The project will focus on techniques for reducing fly-rock incidents and will consider the parameters, such as vibration, dust, noise and noxious gases, that affect blasting near developed areas. “While previous fly-rock studies focused on hard rock, in quarries and openpit mining, these studies will focus on soft rock, such as the overburden removed to expose coal,” Ludick says.
With the occurrence of incidents related to fly rock, he affirms that it is the responsibility of AEL Mining Services as an explosives business “to join forces” with the academic sector to find solutions to some of the parameter effects.
As a significant supplier to the mining industry, AEL Mining Services has the responsibility towards the industry to promote R&D, Ludick concludes.