Mining's dream future nearer

THE sought after mining future of fully integrated operations starting with strong understanding of the orebody and running right through the value chain may be a lot closer than some think.
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Michelle Ash believes the desired mining future is closer than many think.

Geovia CEO and Future of Mining Australia 2020 chairwoman Michelle Ash said that possible future was not here yet but it was close.

"It is one to three years away rather than 10, 30 or 50 years away," she said.

Ash explained that miners had brought in a lot of point solutions that helped them solve problems in specific areas in the mine.

Those are things such as autonomous trucks.

"The point solutions will give you 5%-10%-15% value," she said.

"It's when you integrate them, that's where you get this transformational value. That's where you get a more radical change in safety, sustainability, productivity and profitability."

This integrated approach is something several companies, including Dassault Systemes, which owns Geovia, have been working on.

"Certainly the technology is available to integrate," Ash said.

"Our technology, in terms of Dassault Systemes, we've done that exact thing. We've done it [integration] in other manufacturing areas."

However, Ash admitted there were some nuances in mining that needed to be addressed, not least of them being in the geology and exploration spheres.

"But everything we're seeing using computing vision, X-Ray fluorescence and other technologies to capture information about an orebody, most of those sensors are available."

Another issue in mining is communications and Ash said there were plenty of solutions for that around.

"There is still work to be done to take what's being done in other businesses and apply it to mining," she said.

"It's not a long piece of work but it does take attention and focus to get it done.

"BHP and Rio Tinto have most of these pieces of the puzzle but there is still work to be done there."

Ash said Geovia could take technologies from other industries Dassault Systemes had capabilities in and bring them to mining.

"We can take what we've got from the nuclear industry, around plant design and construction, and apply it to mining," she said.

"It takes effort but you are not completely rewriting something."

Indeed Geovia  is doing that with its Strategic Mine Planning Caving offering.

"That allows a mining company to look at its orebody, mine design and, if it wants to look at a caving option, it can simulate the cave," Ash said.

"That then integrates back into [Geovia's mine planning software] Surpac.

"We're still working on the integration but with the processing plant and doing that in three dimensions."

Ash said the devil with mining projects was in the details and those details often came out when something was looked at in 3D.

The aim is to create a 3D digital twin of the entire value chain.

"That can then integrate into your logistics chain," Ash said.

"That's where the mining industry has to head. It derisks things if you can predict beforehand, at least to a fairly level of accuracy, how the mine and the plant are going to work."

Mining is often told to look to manufacturing for its cues on how it should advance.

Ash said the challenge manufacturing faced was in anticipating customer demand while mining's challenge was at the very start of its process.

She said that led manufacturers to become very flexible so they could move more rapidly to meet their customer's demands.

In mining the issue comes in understanding the orebody and the metallurgy. Nail those two areas and the benefits start to flow.

In the past the mining approach has been to sort out problems the orebody and metallurgy through up as it went forward.

"Part of the problem with our industry is we've made heroes of the people who pull us out of the poo when we get into it," Ash said.

"Often the way people do that is because they've seen that problem before and use some of that knowledge to fix the problem.

"But how does the industry make heroes of the people who make sure that problem doesn't occur in the first place?

"It's a different set of skills and quite a different person that we would be holding up as the beacon of our industry.

"We actually need to fundamentally change the culture of our industry."