Africa’s mining industry is embracing digital technologies in blasting, says explosives technology company BME technology and marketing GM Ralf Hennecke.
He explains that digital blasting technologies are enhancing safety, efficiency, ease of use and the integration of blasting processes into on-mine information platforms.
“This is all part of the vital trend towards smart mining, to make mining operations in Africa safer, more efficient, transparent and sustainable,” Hennecke adds, noting that the digital age calls for increased collaboration between technology providers for integrated solutions.
He says that mines and their suppliers will need to work in ever-closer partnerships to develop and apply the systems for increasingly automated mining. Higher levels of business optimisation can, therefore, be achieved through gathering and processing real-time data from all mining assets.
BME’s history of technology development led to its Blast Alliance integrated software portfolio for surface and underground operations, which brings together BME’s three software solutions to drive digital transformation and add value to mining operations.
“BME’s technology drive is based on solutions that can integrate with each other, and with the platforms and systems that customers are already operating on their mines,” he explains.
Blast Alliance comprises the BLASTMAP blast design application, XPLOLOG for accurate hole and deck data capturing and reporting, and the BME Blasting Guide application for quick block design calculations and verification. These integrate with one another and with BME’s AXXIS digital initiation system to create a fully programmable and accurate electronic delay detonator system.
Hennecke claims that it is one of the safest initiation systems available because it offers full two-way communication between the blasting box and detonators. Using the AXXIS system, blasting technicians can programme AXXIS detonators to fire accurately from 0 milliseconds to 15 000 milliseconds at one-millisecond intervals.
“You can fire up to 600 detonators from one AXXIS blasting box, which can be used as a standalone unit with a blasting line connected directly to the detonators, or in a wireless configuration with two or more AXXIS blasting boxes.”
Hennecke notes that an important aspect of digital blasting technologies is the ability of on-mine systems to deliver real-time reporting.
“Our XPLOLOG system provides this functionality in its implementation of the blast design – enabling managers to track the progress of blast preparation activities on the block,” he says.
BME’s XPLOLOG system can be accessed using a mobile data logger device or an online reporting dashboard. The online reporting dashboard enables blasting teams to proactively monitor, identify and rectify issues in the field.
“Quality blasting has been significantly advanced by the trend towards electronic detonation, which allows for increasingly complex blasts to be designed and executed,” he notes.
BME’s electronic detonators and its AXXIS digital initiation system are key elements in ensuring controlled blasting, as well as larger blasts. Large blasts increase surface mining efficiency by reducing the number of blasts a mine requires each week and, thereby, minimise the disruption to production caused by clearing the pit for each blast.
An example of a large blast being made possible using digital blasting technology was a blast conducted by BME at the end of last year at a manganese mine, in the Northern Cape.
Using the AXXIS electronic initiation system enabled BME to plan and execute a blast of 4 647 detonators – a record in South Africa. The blast involved 535 t of emulsion explosive and required more than 37 000 m of drilling. The resulting blast moved almost 23-million tonnes of rock in seconds.
A few months earlier, the company had executed another large blast at the same mine by initiating 3 780 detonators in one blast.
BME has conducted even larger blasts in Australia and Zambia – in the coal and copper sectors respectively. A major copper producer in Zambia initiated a blast involving 7 401 electronic delay detonators using the AXXIS electronic initiation system.
The size of a blast is not the only factor to consider, as a quality blast must also optimise key outcomes, such as fragmentation, Hennecke says, noting that good fragmentation will ensure that the resulting particle size can facilitate efficient loading, hauling and comminution.
“Through the integration of our software portfolio, we tailor solutions for specific needs and deliver the functionality that will impact on a mine’s operational efficiency,” he tells Mining Weekly.
This enables BME to help improve a range of mining processes.
Real-time monitoring features – as well as simulations to predict blast performance – ensure that blasts are executed correctly the first time, which is vital for smooth operations. Analysis tools also allow for each blast to be evaluated, providing valuable insights for continuous improvement of future blasts for increased mining efficiency.