When it comes to openpit mine planning, it is essential to establish a thorough understanding of the practical mining cycle and how mine planning software can help, says mine planning and engineering consultancy Ukwazi Group.
Director and principal engineer Jaco Lotheringen says mining software applications are considerably different today than a decade ago, with the bulk of improvements being made in terms of usability.
“Only recently has the focus returned to the functionality of mine planning software solutions, based on the vast increase in competition among software providers,” he says.
Lotheringen further highlights the accessi-bility of mine planning for large and small-scale miners as one of the great benefits of new-generation general mine planning software.
This accessibility is not only great for the transparent management and planning of operations and projects, but it also sheds light on mining engineering and planning as a skill set, in recognition of the critical role they play.
“Great care should therefore be taken to ensure that a mine plan is achievable and based on valid mine planning principles. Effective and realistic mine plans are always crucial for the success of any mining operation,” says Lotheringen.
He points out, however, that, with the recent focus on software usability, a range of technical pitfalls and neglected mine planning principles have come to the fore. Some of the available mine planning software solutions consider practicality better than others, he says, adding that, in some cases, these pitfalls could materially restrict the value of and ability to execute a mine plan.
Lotheringen highlights that the three plan-ning horizons – short-, medium- and long-term planning – with objectives for each – are usually not well defined in most mine plans. This is specifically evident with some medium-sized operations that tend to focus on medium-term planning, with a lack of focus on the short term and long term, he says.
Lotheringen suggests that each of the three planning horizons’ plans should be set up with the end-user and the objective of the plan in mind.
He explains that, typically, the short-term plan focuses on the production team, while the medium-term plan should focus on the management team, with budget plans, the investor and owner being the focus of the long-term plan.
Lotheringen says trying to satisfy all plan-ning requirements in a single plan usually overcomplicates the strategic plan and over-simplifies the short-term plan. This renders the strategic plan inflexible and the short-term plan irrelevant.
He adds that operations that do not fully understand and implement these principles almost always struggle to deliver on their business objectives.
“Buying mine planning software does not, in itself, solve low volumes, high dilutions, low grades or high costs,” says Lotheringen, adding, however, that understanding the specific operation, implementation and maintenance needs of an integrated mine planning process over the planning horizons is a step in the right direction.
He further cites regular buy-in before execu- tion as one of the key focus areas when imple-menting a mine plan, as well as simple and effective compliance to plan measurement; accountability for noncompliance; regular updates of the short-term plan based on produc-tion geology; proactive feedback and updates; and full and open collaboration between the production team and technical services.
Lotheringen notes that end-user buy-in is probably one of the most neglected of these key focus areas, even though, without it, any mine plan could be rendered obsolete.
“A mine plan that the end-user does not understand or believe in will not be implemented or used for its intended purpose,” he concludes.