Explosives firm BME explored how mobile technology and centralised data could give mine managers an edge over competitors to comprehensively eliminate potential blast problems through the management of blast inputs, among others, thereby improving blast results, at its annual Drilling and Blasting Conference.
Speaking at the event earlier this month at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, in Pretoria, BME senior software developer Nicky Klacar explained that BME had leveraged the combined computing power of mobile platforms, supported by enterprise-grade cloud computing platform Microsoft Azure, to design a central data-storage repository for data captured by mobile devices in the field.
“The BlastLog application (app), which is loaded onto rugged android hand-held devices, is used in the field by BME’s blasting technicians when they perform blast audits and record data,” said Klacar.
She noted that the BlastLog (surface and underground) systems used the data captured by mobile devices to generate powerful real-time reports and notifications that were presented on a mobile platform to end-users.
For example, a safety, health, environment and quality officer using the app would be immediately notified if an unsafe working practice was reported in the field.
“The beauty of the BlastLog system is that we give client operations access to data as it is captured by the blast technicians using the app,” highlighted Klacar.
She added that push notifications immediately alerted the relevant personnel to potential problems on a blast that was being prepared, enabling them to respond accordingly to rectify the problem, rather than becoming aware of a problem after a blast had been detonated.
For example, if BME does a boretrack audit (measuring the angle and deviation of holes), the planning manager can be alerted as soon as the audit has been uploaded to the cloud. The manager can review the results on his or her mobile phone and decide if more holes need to be added in areas where there is too little energy because of hole deflection. This can improve fragmentation results and prevent uneven mine floors.
This easy access to information increases transparency and accountability by mine employees and contractors.
By storing the data captured from each blast in a central location, BME can analyse it holistically, instead of one blast at a time. Employees also do not have to search and read through reports stored on a hard drive for the relevant data.
At present, the BlastLog app suite has been used only in-house at BME. However, the company was testing the app at its clients’ operations, and would, in some cases, make the app available for download by clients, cited Klacar.
The system is designed to tag data with the owner’s details as it is generated. At no point can anyone other than a client and BME view the data. “Data is a very valuable commodity and it is part of our intrinsic design of the system to ensure that data is displayed only to the owners thereof,” says BME.
The company highlights that authentication is an important part of the system and it is using the Microsoft Azure authentication protocol to protect data and authenticate users.
“The security of the system as a whole has always been at the forefront of our minds during the development process,” Klacar added.
Klacar explained that designing a system of this magnitude was extremely complex, highlighting that it was really important to design a solid base “so that you can keep building on the software and adding features in the years to come without having to redesign it”.
The connected mobile platform is also a new area for BME. The company recently launched its BlastLog app at gold producer Gold One’s newly built flagship shallow- depth underground Modder East mine, on the East Rand, about 30 km from Johannesburg.
Klacar added that this was a progressive and safety-orientated mine. A tablet would eventually be issued with the software to all underground technicians at Modder East, so that all audits, mechanical breakdowns and safety incidents could be recorded digitally.BME is planning to add its AXXIS digital initiation system to the connected platform, enabling the company to analyse a detonator from when its components are assembled in the plant to when it is used in the field.
“The potential for this kind of software in the mining industry is very exciting,” concluded Klacar.