Mining data: advanced capture methods help miners do more with less
Across all aspects of the business, from start to finish, the mining industry is awash with data – geological, hydrological, environmental and operational – and all this needs to be processed and analysed in a timely and effective way. Recent developments in spatial technology, remote sensing and advanced computing have paved the way for huge leaps forward in the way this is done, and ultimately will help increase efficiency, improve safety and maximise profitability in the future.
"Addressing one of the most challenging issues in the mining industry today, doing more with less, operational and asset performance is paramount," says Sandra Di Matteo, asset performance director, for Bentley Systems - the company behind the award-winning environmental data capture tool used at Kumba iron ore mine in South Africa.
Designed to manage volumes of data coming from all sources of performance and condition data, Bentley's new AssetWise Ivara Performance Management technology provides one solution to that challenge.
It can take information from a range of inputs, including data historians, SCADA systems, predictive technologies and OPC-compliant data sources, among others, and effectively provide continuous, real-time information on process, activity, state and other fundamental equipment data.
AssetWise Ivara automates the collection, consolidation and analysis of this data so operations and maintenance can act on it to avoid costly downtime, while its integral reliability centred maintenance (RCM2) analysis function determines exactly what information should be gathered and when - and how - to identify the onset of failure.
Remote sensing and aerial imaging have made particular advances in recent years, both in terms of the resolution being achieved, and increasing accessibility, from satellites such as IKONOS - with a pixel resolution of less than a metre - to a whole new wave of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The value of these technologies to enhance asset discovery has made them of significant interest.
Australian satellite remote sensing data supplier, and winner of the Asia Pacific Spatial Excellence Award 2012, PCI Geomatics, is one of the companies at the forefront of this current wave of innovation. Its newly released Geomatica 2013 contains a host of new refinements designed to improve the handling of large scale projects involving multiple-element images, including enhanced atmospheric correction to automatically detect cloud and haze, and new algorithms to aid high quality Digital Elevation Model (DEM) extraction.
PCI Geomatics has an established record of being consistently first to the market with new sensor support, and this offering is no different, adding Pleiades, UAVSAR and Sentinel-1 to the list, as well as updates for the existing Deimos, ZY3 and CBERS02C sensors.
Other remote sensing data solutions include the likes of SRK Consultants' advanced geological geophysical modelling and visualisation technology, Aurea Imaging's lithology classification via spectral analysis, and Scantherma's use of X, C and L frequency radar to map geological features, particularly in low-lying or arid regions.
Data capture and management
Poor initial data collection, particularly when it results in problems of data quality and integrity, can ultimately lead to downstream increases in administration time and costs. In mid-May, Maxwell GeoServices announced the release of LogChief 3.0 - billed as a significant improvement to data capture in the field - to address just this issue.
The new version brings split-screen views, customised workflows and user profiles, establishes a new cloud visualisation ability for data and comes complete with a comprehensive suite of new optional plug-ins designed for this upgrade. These include CoreShed, to provide core photography management, LooK, which offers integrated spatial viewing, customisable reporting via SQL Reports, XRF for seamlessly streamed geological data and cloud-based data access using WebShed.
Speaking at the launch, Viv Preston, Maxwell's director, said: "We've been examining the industry over the last few years, and identified data capture as a priority for improvement and a market where we can focus our efforts."
Data collection is, of course, only the beginning; the key to making the most of accurate data, once gathered, lies in good data management, and with DataShed - the company's flagship complete database management software - Maxwell already fields arguably one of the best solutions around.
Designed to organise mining data from multiple sources in a way that leaves it readily accessible, but also allows it to be examined in a variety of different ways, the software's inherent flexibility is said to make it user-friendly, highly customisable and scalable to project needs.
DataShed has a number of key features, including effective data filter and search functions, the ability to track samples from field to lab to database, export data in a variety of formats and provide on-demand reports. In addition, it offers seamless connectivity and integration with a range of other programmes, including 3rd party GIS and modelling applications.
Looking to the future, the need for data management to be able to do what Bentley's Di Matteo describes as "more with less" also seems set to feature strongly in the coming years.
"The two key terms that are gaining mindshare in the information technology and mining worlds are 'big data' and 'intelligent mine'," she says, pointing to big data as the raw material which itself can be 'mined' for insights, and used as the basis to generate predictive analytics.
She suggests that in five to ten years' time, big data will not be an insurmountable issue, and advanced technologies, such as Bentley's AssetWise, will usher in an era of information mobility and intelligent infrastructure that is not limited by connectivity and integrations.
It should mean that owner-operators will be able to increase the return on assets by extending their useful life and increasing productivity throughout the lifecycle. In addition, by focusing on increasing availability, utilisation and reliability, minimising downtime and unplanned outages, and enhancing efficiency, the intelligent mine will see operational performance improved at the same time.
Next generation, intelligent mine data management could also play a large part in helping manage business risk too, the access to accurate information ensuring that public safety and regulatory compliance requirements are met, and providing the proof that assets are safe and in good operating order.
It is a point broadly echoed by Dylan Webb, CAE Mining's director of marketing and product strategy. CAE offers technical solutions covering exploration drilling, resource modelling, optimisation, mine design and scheduling, and through their partnership with Devex, supply operations management technologies that improve mine plan execution, optimise fleet resources and enhance decision-making.
Webb foresees mine plans that will be updated automatically using data feeds both from operations themselves and from external sources, such as commodity prices and exchange rates - and then these revised plans being executed automatically via operations management systems.
"Short and long term planning will be completely seamless. The foundation for this capability will be data integration across multiple specialist systems, " he says.
Di Matteo believes the business-case is clear. "The power of data management for the intelligent mine is that a marginal, one to three percent improvement in the performance of a multimillion dollar infrastructure asset will result in huge savings to owner-operators across the asset lifecycle."
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