September 24, 2017

Offsetting the downturn through meticulous planning

For mine operators to maximise the value of assets in a sluggish commodities market, scheduling production and planning has to be at the forefront of their operations. Appropriate scheduling production and planning software gives them control of their data giving them flexibility to respond to changing internal and external conditions.

 The current state of commodity prices is just one of many external complexities challenging mine operators, and is a constraint outside of their control. Weak commodity prices mean tighter profit margins, as productivity and profitability go hand in hand.  Thus, the ‘conventional’ way of converting mineral resources into ore reserves using spreadsheets can be time-consuming and labour intensive to set up and generate results.

Thankfully, mine operators can manage this situation through sound planning and scheduling of processes from pit-to-port. By knowing the resource inside-out, mine operators can be able to plan and schedule accordingly.  Projections involve assumptions around mining method, metallurgy, legal, economic, social and environmental conditions.

Through an interview with African Mining Brief, Maptek General Manager for Africa, Nick Venter, imparts key elements on the practical approach to scheduling production and planning, through using the right mine planning and scheduling software, to mine operators in Africa. Maptek is a globally recognised developer and supplier of software for modelling and planning applications in mining, as well as other sectors. A significant investor in R&D and committed to solving customer challenges, Maptek is a trusted partner for mine operators’ mine design and scheduling needs.

Stresses Venter: “Scheduling production and planning for lifetime flexibility needs to be at the forefront of planning to ensure that the value of assets can be maximised at a strategic level. Control of their data gives them flexibility to respond to changing internal and external conditions. For instance, if market demand changes, operators can change the product being shipped to mill or market.”

 

Basically, he adds, operators need the best tools to plan and schedule their operations productively. “In today’s challenging mining environment, thinking outside of the box to apply innovation can unlock a host of opportunities for new and hybrid solutions, particularly relevant to overcoming challenges presented by volatile commodity markets.”

Through the appropriate mine planning technology, mines can be able to implement and achieve business goals within mining operations and to communicate mining and production intent and objectives across a variety of timelines.

Scope of applications

Mine planning solutions bring together huge amounts of technical and geological data around orebodies, planning and design, mining processes and performance measurement and monitoring to deliver reliable information across the entire mining value chain. Thus, connecting mine processes and linking these with production data allows planning and operational decisions to be made with confidence.

Single source of truth

Venter states that efficient access to datasets, including third party information, results in a single source of truth, which provides an effective mechanism for managing integrated mine performance. “It is vital for mine operators to focus on integrating workflows and data throughout geological modelling, mine design, planning, production management and reporting for providing that single source of truth.”

He further explains: “Collecting data from all operating devices and making this available in an automated fashion across planning and operational teams effectively closes the loop for driving performance and productivity gains. Making the same data visible to machine operators, technical and planning teams as well as management and stakeholders is very powerful enabler.”

The role of technology partners

Current demands in mining have put the onus on technology partners of mines to develop and deliver the right solutions, Venter points out.  “When technology is changing fast, mining companies need to be able to rely on their technology partners to provide solutions, and technical support.

To keep abreast of market requirements, asserts Venter, it is important for mine operations to choose technology partners seeking and combining feedback from the mining industry with best practice software engineering to develop mining solutions ahead of the game. Specifically, he points out, they should examine the potential for data collection and analysis to extend across processes and beyond horizons, and not just look at systems from their standalone application.

“It is important to recognise that connectivity between systems and processes across operations holds the key to maximising productivity. Attention to detail in data collection at every stage of mining will lead to auditable systems and continuous improvement,” points out Venter.

Research and Development

In order to meet contemporary industry demands, software providers need to invest heavily in Research and Development (R&D) to help the mine operators maximise value and improve efficiencies, so that when challenges arise customers have the capability to meet them.

“Technology is developing in such a way that companies can achieve greater value than ever from their data, something which mining operators are yet to capitalise on,” Venter concludes.

Popular software and its capabilities

Maptek continues to be a technology leader in R&D in software and hardware for mining applications. Maptek mine planning and scheduling software solutions are commonly used in various applications worldwide. They include Vulcan geological modelling and mine planning software, Maptek Evolution Scheduling solution, Evolution Strategy and Evolution Origin. “Maptek’s technology development roadmap is key to driving a unified goal – we are increasingly integrating workflows and data between our applications throughout geological modelling, mine design, planning, production management and reporting to provide that single source of truth.”

Vulcan software provides orebody modelling, grade estimation and mine design tools across the mine planning and operations stages. Continuous development focuses on providing operations with more integrated and connected solutions.

Maptek Evolution scheduling solution features interoperability with the resource model, integrated workflows, parallel processing technology and the latest visualisation engine. Evolution simultaneously displays multiple models, waste dumps, haul networks and topography for better understanding of the operational constraints.

Evolution Strategy deploys a modern, optimised approach that maximises net present value and generates cut-off grade optimisation policies. Users can build blend constraints, and track and report multiple elements and contaminants per process and/or destination.

Evolution Origin generates detailed scheduling scenarios from life-of-mine to short term planning horizons and can apply optimisation policies generated by Strategy. Data can be fed data back into the mine production loop in real-time, so insights gained from comparing designs to as-builts can be immediately leveraged.

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