Amid the recent economic downturn, with the global mining industry having to deal with volatile commodity prices, as well as the increasing need to improve operational efficiencies and address safety concerns, mining software solutions provider MICROMINE global marketing manager Kate Gilbey suggests that mining companies recognise the need to improve their processes to increase productivity and output and, ultimately, realise a healthier bottom line.
“Through software, and particularly the application of Big Data, this can be done with more accuracy and efficiency than ever before,” Gilbey tells Mining Weekly.
Further, MICROMINE Africa regional manager Renier Strydom highlights the current trend for easy-to-use, fast, function-rich and fit-for-purpose solutions. With data size and complexity seemingly increasing, the ability to handle these large, complex data sets is becoming increasingly important, he adds.
“We have also seen a shift towards solutions that require less user involvement that is more intuitive, while promoting integration among different software solutions.”
Gilbey emphasises that “data is king”, adding that, through data and connectivity, sensors in equipment can capture large volumes of data for analysis.
Further, advances in analytics and intelligence, from machine learning to improved statistical techniques for integrating data, help to turn these vast data sets into insight about the probability of future events.
Meanwhile, human-machine interaction, as well as the use of mobile devices and tablets, has transformed the way that operators interact with not only one another but also machines.
Gilbey highlights that a key example is the use of work clothing that incorporates sensors transmitting data to managers about hazardous conditions at the mine and the physical condition of workers. In digital-to-physical conversion in mining, the use of assisted-control equipment is becoming common, and deployment of fully autonomous equipment is taking hold in haulage, drilling and other processes, she adds.
“I truly believe that digital technologies have the potential to unlock new ways of managing variability and enhancing productivity.”
These technologies allow for a fundamental shift in mining – a shift marked by the harnessing of the flow of information to reduce variability in decision-making and the deployment of more centralised, mechanised operations to reduce variability in execution.
“I believe the greatest benefit will come when a mine embeds these technologies as an integrated whole across the mining value chain. It will then allow for better decision-making and safer, more consistent operations,” she asserts.
Digitalisation can help companies gain a deeper understanding of their resource base by combining orebody modelling with blasthole drill data and sampling.
“The integration of geological information into one better, universal source of truth helps optimise drill-and-blast patterns, creates an executable mine plan and avoids quality issues . . . traditional activities, such as core logging, face inspections and manual plant assays, will still be valuable as the information obtained through the software will assist in streamlining efficiencies and processes,” Gilbey says.
Mining companies can also optimise their material and equipment flow, as using real-time data and better analytical engines results in making better scheduling and processing decisions, which enhance the use of equipment and yields.
Enhancements include improved anticipation of failures and increased mechanisation through automation. Gilbey emphasises that automation offers the potential to reduce operating costs, improve operating discipline and remove people from harm’s way.
She further underscores the benefit of monitoring real-time performance versus planned performance. “Real-time insight gives new meaning to operations’ performance management, taking the conversation from one about monthly output to one that focuses on variability and compliance with plans.”
While Strydom acknowledges that there may be a fear of technology replacing the need for human intervention in the African mining industry, he asserts that MICROMINE’s vision has always been to make exploration and mining easier. Therefore, the company aims to use its software to facilitate ease of use, while highlighting the need for people to use data and analytics to improve productivity, efficiency and safety levels at mining operations through educated decision-making.
MICROMINE, which attended the Investing in African Mining Indaba, in Cape Town, last month, highlighted several key product offerings at the event, and provided sneak peeks of its products, Micromine 2018 and Geobank 2018.
Gilbey emphasises MICROMINE’s research and development programme, noting that the company “invests significantly in ensuring that the solutions remain relevant and continue to meet industry expectations”. In line with this, the company aims to release new versions of the three software suites/programs every 12 to 18 months.
The latest Geobank 2018 solution was released this month, with Micromine 2018 planned for a mid-April launch.
“Micromine is very much geared towards innovation and continuous improvements. We listen to the markets and clients and constantly add features to make our offering the best software investment,” Strydom concludes.