High-tech Solutions Relieve Pressure on Mine Planners
Accuracy, speedy data analysis and process integration form the foundation of effective planning systems
By Russell A. Carter, Managing Editor
A brief example of how misapplication or misinterpretation of data can cost a mine is offered by software and services supplier Ventyx (formerly Mincom, recently acquired by ABB): Under-estimating coal thickness by 6 in. (152 mm) over an area as small as 11 acres (4.45 ha) will result in a planned pro-duction shortfall of one unit train. If coal is selling at $50/ton, that’s $500,000 of revenue lost by the mine.
Bill Wilkinson, Ventyx’s product man-ager for MineScape, recently addressed the formidable problem of staying afloat in the rough waters of current mine-plan-ning demands in a paper titled Top Five Challenges in Mine Planning . According to Wilkinson: “Geologists and mining engineers must account for a staggering array of variables—geological samples and data from the mine, the production capacity of available equipment, machin-ery and manpower availability, customer demand and commodity prices, product cost assumptions, and the health and safety of workers.
“Traditionally, the time and resources required to continually collect this data meant that no one could keep pace with the reality of what’s happening at the mine site. Furthermore, the process of developing mine plans may utilize dis-parate systems, which introduces ineffi-ciencies in the process and more oppor-tunity for error. Additionally, inefficien-cies can be introduced by the technology being employed, especially for geologi-cally complex areas and where large amounts of data are being modeled.”
His ‘top five’ challenges include:
• Capturing the true complexity of miner-al deposits
Geological models gener-ated for initial feasibility studies are often not detailed enough to provide an accurate picture of a mine suitable for creating detailed production plans— and the software used to develop mod-els in a feasibility study may not be suit-able for the production environment.
• Updating mine plans with new data
from the field
Mine planning and scheduling has traditionally been such a time-consuming, labor-intensive pro-cess that it prohibits the timely genera-tion of new or updated plans as quick-ly as new data is received. This is com-pounded by staff turnover and a short-age of skilled mine planners and geolo-gists to execute planning.
• Generating accurate production and
Managing natural variations in an orebody is extremely difficult, often leading to educated guesses and “fudge” factors based on past experience. Process inefficiencies and technology deficiencies delay or pro-hibit the inclusion of the latest mine data into the geological models and mine plans in time to stay ahead of operations.
• Capitalizing on quick changing market
and operational conditions
Because of the length of time required to per-form some of the geological modeling and mine planning tasks, planning frequency may not be keeping pace with the frequency of change. Mine plans and schedules are difficult to adapt to the changing conditions of a company’s resources, such as its people, plant or equipment.
• Streamlining the flow of information
between the geological modeling, mine
planning and mine scheduling process-es
If mine planning and scheduling are not run from a single integrated sys-tem, geological and mine planning and scheduling data must be moved and re-entered, increasing the likelihood of introducing errors and decreasing mine planning turnaround time.
In the final analysis, the right mix of short- and long-term planning is a thorny matter, hard to resolve because it involves so many separate facets of an operation’s structure. Concerning one related issue, though, there is no ambi-guity: Software developers and ‘solutions providers’ are providing a steady flow of new or upgraded tools claimed to make data handling and analysis, production control and planning easier, with more meaningful results.
A quick scan of recent product-implementation announcements, as fol-lows, provides a glimpse of how compa-nies are employing these products in all phases of the exploration/develop-ment/mining sequence to meet their specific data management and reporting demands.
High-speed Core Scanning
All planning is based on data collection and interpretation, and the quicker these two phases are accomplished, the more time available for formulating valid plans and schedules. A new imaging tool devel-oped by a small Quebec, Canada-based company is claimed to allow drill core analysis to proceed at higher levels of speed and accuracy. An interesting side note is that, in most cases, the latest data collection-and-analysis upgrades and innovations offered to the industry are based on the latest programming and hardware technology; in this example, however, the application traces its roots back to 1960s-era science.
Photonic Knowledge says its Core Mapper hyperspectral imaging applica-tion is a derivative of technology original-ly developed 50 years ago for remote sensing from aircraft and satellites that captures and analyzes information from across the entire electromagnetic spec-trum. Much as the human eye sees light in three bands (red, green and blue), spectral imaging divides the spectrum into many more bands—and Core Mapper adapts this technology for use at drill-core scale with significantly higher reso-lution. The wavelength differences of absorbed and reflected light from core samples is analyzed in hundreds of very narrow bands down to a resolution of 2 nanometers, or 2 billionths of a meter of the visible and near infrared light spec-trum. This technological application has a spatial precision of one square millime-ter, much greater than a square meter as usually found in remote sensing.
According to Photonic Knowledge President Eric Roberge, two junior com-panies—Northern Gold Mining Inc. and Armistice Resources Corp.—recently be-gun using Core Mapper in their drilling programs.
Northern Gold Mining has retained Photonic Knowledge to provide and oper-ate the Core Mapper technology to enhance the determination of mineral and metal content in drill core samples from Northern Gold’s Garrison gold property, 90 km east of Timmins, Ontario. Near-term, NGM plans to use Core Mapper to analyze approximately 100,000 m of drill core from previous operators on the property with the expectation that several hundred thousand meters of past, current and future core drilling, and possibly includ-ing reverse circulation drill cuttings, will be mapped using the technology.
Armistice, moving forward to begin production at its McGarry gold mine in the Kirkland Lake area of northeastern Ontario, entered into a long-term service agreement with Photonic Knowledge fol-lowing an extensive evaluation process over the past year; the application will involve scanning of about 6,100 m of new and historic core.
Armistice expects the technology to allow it to obtain an understanding of the mineralogy and hydrothermal alteration facies associated with historical re-sources more quickly and efficiently than with the visual method normally used by Armistice.
Also, in this structure of highly altered volcanics, Armistice believes the new technology will allow it to better under-stand the mineralized system of the prospective area, specifically, the two types of gold-bearing environments with-in the alteration zone: green carbonate and pyritic mudstone.
Core Mapper results can be integrated with geological modeling allowing visual-ization in 2-D or even 3-D, and is capa-ble of mapping and analyzing up to 2,000 meters of core per day, said Roberge, who also noted, “The major ad-vantage of this technology is its ability to provide a picture to geologists with a field of view that is 1,600X larger from the conventional handheld spectrometer and 900X more precise.”
Counting the Coal
Australia-based mining software provider Micromine reports that a varied spectrum of mineral producers have recently applied products from its solutions port-folio. The list of clients has expanded to include Endocoal, an Australian coal exploration and development company; and two Nevada gold mines belonging to Newmont Mining Corp.
Endocoal, an ASX-listed company, is one of the larger holders of EPC tene-ments in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, with 11 tenements across approximately 5,200 km 2 . Endocoal’s stated intention is to become a long-term, sustainable supplier of diversified coal products to global markets. Its two main projects are Orion Downs and Rockwood: At Orion Downs, the company reports 36 million mt JORC resource of export-quality, direct-ship thermal coal and is planning a “flagship” surface mine at the proper-ty’s Meteor Downs South location; a bankable feasibility study is currently under way for this project, and the com-pany is tentatively planning first produc-tion from the mine during the second half of 2013.
At the Rockwood project, Endocoal reports a 312.5-million-mt JORC resource of high rank, low volatile, PCI coal, minable by underground methods, and has set its next exploration target at delineating 400- to 900-million-mt of resources.
In the early stages of its exploration program, Endocoal recognized it had no data management software system in place and had a clear need for data con-trol, validation and a ‘single truth’ data source. Second, the company didn’t have the capacity to create data models and the cost to outsource resource estima-tions was deemed too expensive.
The company’s first step was to con-duct an assessment of the different soft-ware products in the Australian market. By January 2011, Endocoal decided that it was going to invest in two Micromine products: Micromine for resource estima-tion and Geobank, a data management software solution that provides an envi-ronment for capturing, validating, storing and managing data from diverse sources, using a scalable data model that can be tailored to meet specific exploration and mining requirements.
Endocoal began implementation of the software in February 2011. Micro-mine reported that Endocoal made strong progress in refining their Geobank data-base to ensure a validated and consistent overview of their exploration activities. They were then able to move swiftly into the phase of using Micromine’s resource estimation capabilities to build a portfo-lio of their coal reserves.
Endocoal believes that with the Micromine software running internally, it will receive long-term benefit from being able to undertake resource modeling in-house. “We believe it will be simpler, faster and cheaper to format prior to being forwarded to external consultants to devel-op the resource models,” said Charles Lord, Endocoal resource geologist.
“We now have a formatted database, so we are able to achieve quicker turn-around times and to track data from the field to the database more accurately. Our internal and external workflows are more sound and consistent, and most importantly we have total confidence in the quality of our data,” said Lord.
Controlling Costs, Pumping Up Production
Newmont’s Midas and Leeville under-ground gold mines in Nevada, USA, recently installed Micromine’s Pitram Control solution.
Both mines are located in the Carlin Trend near Elko. Midas began production in the late 1990s, under the ownership of Franco-Nevada Mining Corp. In May 2001, Normandy Mining purchased Midas from Franco-Nevada. Six months later, Newmont became owner of the mine following its merger with both Normandy and Franco. The Leeville mine began production in 2006. It was Newmont's first underground mine in Nevada accessed via a shaft.
Leeville employs around 250 workers on a typical shift and has 11 haul trucks in the mine fleet. The Midas mine has low and high grade ores, both of which are trucked to the surface by its truck fleet.
Pitram, according to Micromine, is a mine control and management reporting solution that records, manages and processes mine site data in real-time, pro-viding an overview of a mine site’s activi-ties by converting data into meaningful information. The mine benefits from its implementation though improved mana-gerial control that provides the potential for managers to reduce costs, increase production, and improve safety and busi-ness intelligence capabilities.
Pitram Control is one of four products that comprise the Pitram product suite. The Pitram suite provides an upgrade path from the entry level Pitram Report solution, through to the fully automated Pitram Optimum solution.
System implementation at the two Newmont mines began in December 2010 and was completed in September 2011. Keith Preston, head of monitoring and dispatch at the Leeville mine, report-ed to Micromine that, “After considering a variety of mine control solutions, Newmont decided to introduce Pitram Control, and include some functionalities specific to Pitram Optimum. Following the implementation, both sites are already beginning to see the benefits that the solution has to offer.
“Pitram Control has improved safety by consistently monitoring miners and mobile equipment. The solution also pro-vides detailed and real-time production data that is vital to maintaining efficient underground operations,” said Preston.
Micromine’s North America Manager, Colin Smith, said, “Safety is very impor-tant to Newmont, therefore Pitram Control’s safety capabilities were a major consideration for the company. Eventually, Pitram Control will interface with Mine Site Technologies’ tagging sys-tem at both mines. This interface will ensure that personnel in the control room know the exact location of equipment and miners at all times.”
Into the Iron
In April 2011, Tucson, Arizona, USA-based Mintec Inc. announced Fortescue Metals Group, Australia’s third largest iron ore producer after BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, had selected MineSight soft-ware for mine planning.
MineSight Applications’ Perth manag-er, Glenn Wylde, said at the time, “This sale represents a significant break-through for us in the Pilbara region. Along with the sale to BC Iron last year, and headway at other major sites, we are pushing hard into one of the largest grow-ing mining regions in the world.”
Previous to the Fortescue announce-ment, in December 2010, MineSight Applications announced it had landed a deal in Mongolia, winning a contract to supply software for open-pit operations at the massive Oyu Tolgoi copper project. In November 2011, Mintec intro-duced MineSight 7.0. According to Mintec President John Davies, “The inte-gration of the tools in our short-term planning suite—MineSight Interactive Planner, MineSight Haulage, MineSight Schedule Optimizer and Material Manager—provides a formidable tool for rapid schedule evaluation.
“MineSight Version 7.0 removes the limits on block model sizes,” said Davies. “Geologists and engineers using block models to make mine plans and production schedules can create mod-els without constraint, using the latest version of MineSight 3-D. They can pro-duce a more detailed block model, while maintaining the original block model extents.”
The latest version provides 64-bit support for drillhole management pro-grams, MineSight Data Analyst, (MSDA) and MineSight Torque. “We have various multithreaded critical engines for per-formance, and the new 64-bit applica-tions will run faster and have unlimited memory footprints,” said Davies. “Some of our MineSight Economic Planner runs are 70 times faster than older versions prior to 64-bit technology.”
Davies said that for clients, the im-provements mean easier modeling and integrated mine planning. “And we are continuing to develop new tools and applications that will serve clients with underground and stratigraphic deposits.”
Additionally, MineScape 5.2 intro-duces four new plug-ins:
• Haulage Roads, which guides engi-neers through the process of planning mine-haulage roads and dragline paths. Complex road designs can be complet-ed in minutes, according to Ventyx, allowing engineers to compare multiple design concepts, including horizontal and vertical alignment and cut-and-fill volumes.
• Ring Design, which provides an inter-active, three-dimensional Computer Aided Design (3-D CAD) environment from which users can perform under -ground ring drill mine design and blast-ing. Visualization and design tools en-able users to take into consideration both planned and prior mining at differ-ent levels, and generate complex under-ground mine designs within minutes.
• Underground Survey is specifically designed for underground surveying, which provides storage, management and processing of large quantities of survey-point data, as well as standard survey and orthogonal measurements. The 3-D CAD visualization tools enable users to view any selection of survey points and measurements stored in the database, with the capability of draw-ing schematic drives for which ortho-gonal measurements exist.
• Schedule 3-D is an extension of the MineScape Schedule tool, which pro-vides 3-D visualization of mining blocks. Typically used for underground mine scheduling, Schedule 3-D en-ables users to create, visualize and select designed underground stoping blocks, giving engineers a clear under-standing of the scheduling steps, thus stream-lining the process.
Other improvements include the abil-ity to integrate third-party plug-ins, new CAD dimension and measuring tools, improvements in plotting capabilities to make design time faster and more intu-itive, and support for Microsoft Windows XP/7 64-bit operating systems.