Revolutionising mineral exploration through cloud-based collaboration

22nd March 2023

Revolutionising mineral exploration through cloud-based collaboration

Rob Ferguson - Seequent

By Rob Ferguson, Segment Director, Exploration and MRM at Seequent

The years ahead are set to be challenging for the mining industry. Not only must we consider how to protect and drive profitability in a difficult economic environment, we must also do so while leaving a positive impact on environment and communities. This is all while satisfying growing market demands and dealing with rising energy costs.

Digital advancements have therefore come at a fortuitous time. Moving away from desktop and into the cloud ensures improved accessibility and smoother collaboration across teams and locations, helping companies navigate these challenges — and any other unforeseen tribulations that may materialise in the years ahead. Adopting these digital advancements will be critical in ensuring companies stay ahead of the curve and get themselves in a position where they can meet contemporary challenges.

Exploration in the new world

Reflecting investment trends across the wider mining sector, it’s expected that there will be a continued trend of increased investment in mining exploration. With the demand for minerals and metals continuing to grow, particularly those used in renewable energy and electric vehicles, mining companies will be looking for new sources and for the opportunity to get out ahead of the competition in delivering against rising demand in an evolving industrial landscape.

However, as energy transition and decarbonisation efforts accelerate, the traditional price and market cycles for mineral products are becoming increasingly difficult to predict. This makes it essential for mining companies to have a deep understanding and specific plans for the evolving segments of the minerals and metals markets, especially amid a challenging economic environment, or significant investments will be put at risk.

The mining industry heavily depends on identifying new sources of raw minerals and metals. However, as a high cost, high risk undertaking, exploration budgets are always under severe scrutiny particularly in more challenging economic climates. In navigating these risks and challenges, exploration teams can turn to technology to make the process of identifying new sources more efficient, while reducing costs and increasing profitability.

Technological insight

Mineral exploration has undergone significant changes over the years in terms of the technology and techniques used to discover new mineral deposits.

Historic data may contain undiscovered insights, but cracking that data open to find out what those insights are can be daunting. There are the issues of immense volume, inconsistency and format incompatibility to consider. Data management tools are designed to pinpoint the value in historic data with speed and ease, accelerating discovery.

Geoscientists are developing an understanding of potential deposits by developing conception models before even getting boots on the ground. A sound structural understanding of the district goes a long way towards drilling dollars spent wisely.

Today, explorers utilise many more modern analytical techniques like XRF/XRD, Hyperspectral and geophysics.  Additionally, there is a growing emphasis on using artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to help target new mineral discoveries.

Digital transformation – from planning to execution

Most mining companies are now undertaking the transition to new digital technologies by moving to platforms that facilitate connectivity and collaboration.

Often concerns are expressed about the difficulty and time required for the installation of new systems and technologies, the training of their teams, and the difficulty of determining the value of the data. When data is well organised and easily accessible, it allows for collaboration across different teams, resources and insights within a company, enabling better performance and decision-making. Through engaging with experienced, knowledgeable software providers, mining companies can navigate the digital transformation process and overcome these obstacles.

With the right data management tools, collaborative decisions can occur between on-site geologist and domain experts dispersed around the world in a relatively short time frame.

Delays that are inherent in traditional summer season field sampling programs become a thing of the past, as good technology allows for instantaneous synchronisation without the need for speedy internet connection. Connected teams are more efficient.

Confidence counts

Good decisions simply can’t be made without good data, which is why it’s so important to have a trustworthy system that logs, synchs and organises data, and through which teams can talk and perform analysis. An added bonus is a software that’s intuitive to use and doesn’t require lengthy training.

For explorers to have confidence in their projects, they need to see where the data originated and how it was compiled. Digital systems must offer this transparency, showing, for example, how much geological interpretation went into creating the model.

Proven exploration success

Treasury Metals is a gold exploration and development company based in Dryden, Ontario. They use data workflow solution MX Deposit, together with 3D modelling solution Leapfrog Geo, and Seequent’s cloud-based integrated solution Central, which allows them to connect and collaborate at every step.

Maura Kolb is the Director of Exploration. She says: “Being cloud-based is my favourite. I could be working remotely, travelling for work or at a meeting with the corporate team. If I get a question on the spot, I can easily access our most up-to-date versions in Central.”

And when Treasury Metals merged their projects Goldlund and Goliath, they inherited two different styles of drillhole data, different rock codes and even unique visions for each campaign. MX Deposit allowed them to quickly cleanse and integrate all datasets together into one coherent database.

“In my job, it’s all about maximising investment opportunities with efficient decision-making,” Maura says. “This [adoption of cloud-based technologies] has proved a powerful workflow, enabling us to quickly and easily share our drill database and 3D models in real-time across the entire team for faster, more confident decision-making.”

What motivates exploration geologists most is to get ‘boots on the ground’ and fast-track the next exciting discovery. That can be achieved more quickly and cost-effectively with the right digital tools in place.

2023 – a year of opportunity

The exploration industry will continue to be influenced by a variety of factors, including mineral demand, sustainability, and technology advancements. However, companies that can effectively navigate these trends and challenges through the planning and application of not just digital tools but also sound data management that delivers will be well positioned for success in 2023 and beyond.