Virtual reality (VR) provides an immersive experience which makes it easier for project managers to make decisions on project designs and improve them, and to undertake other activities that ensure the effective implementation of their strategies, says University of Pretoria (UP) Department of Mining Engineering VR Centre GM Johann Louw.
A keynote speaker at the South African GeoTech 2017 conference and exhibition, Louw spoke about the potential benefits of VR and the VR Centre at the event, which took place on July 25 and 26 at Emperors Palace, in Johannesburg. Other keynote topics included building information modelling, computer-aided design (CAD), geographic information systems and Big Data, as well as geospatial and sound and vibration technologies. Registered attendees of the event could also visit the VR Centre on July 27.
Louw tells Mining Weekly that the VR Centre is an innovative resource that enables design engineers and students to experience real-world scenarios by simulating plans and designs in a risk-free environment with minimal time and resource allocation. “This way, mistakes and improvements can be identified well before the initial mine development steps are initiated.”
Moreover, plans to improve operations or increase production can be tested by applying them to different scenarios before committing resources to a particular course of action, thereby demonstrating the effectiveness of any given plan while limiting costs.
“Aside from improving the decision- making process, VR ensures that risky incidents are reduced or avoided and companies can visualise activities, enabling them to be more competitive in terms of cost and efficiency,” says Louw.
He comments that, depending on file format, any CAD-type plan, design or scanned file requires only a “small” adjustment to display it in three- dimensional (3D) stereoscopic and/or immersive applications. “The arduous work has already been done by the design team, but we do texturise the design to make it look more believable.”
Additionally, the VR Centre is working to link the visuals to financial programs to enable financial and operations departments to review the simulation of a mine design plan from different angles and gain full understanding of the operation, as well as make improvements where necessary.
In terms of educational value, Louw notes that, while the VR experience can never replace a physical visit to a mine, it can supplement the knowledge gained from such a visit. Further, students can familiarise themselves with every type of mine design, method and layout in an engaging, interactive manner.
VR technologies are significantly cheaper than building mock-up mines and are more versatile, as the images can be redesigned according to the changes required by a company.
The VR Centre
The VR Centre consists of a lecture hall, a 3D theatre and a 3D 360º cylinder. The 3D theatre can accommodate 47 people and can be used for conventional lecturing and industry meetings. The cylinder – 10 m in diameter and 4.2 m high – is the “main drawcard” of the facility, as it caters for the immersive experience.
The R50-million project incorporating the VR Centre is sponsored by South Africa-based miner Kumba Iron Ore and is the first of its kind in Africa. It has been operational since August last year.
Louw notes that UP mining engineering head of department Professor Ronny Webber-Youngman visited a similar cylinder at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, in 2012. Webber-Youngman shared the experience and the potential benefits of establishing a VR facility locally with then Kumba Iron Ore CEO Chris Griffith, which led to Griffith’s assistance in the construction of the facility. Kumba ultimately funded the project to the tune of R19-million as part of its corporate social responsibiliyy initiatives.
Louw states that everybody is welcome to use the facility. “We can portray a specific company’s work to its employees, with the entire centre available as a conference facility at R2 500/h.”