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Mining Matters: Bridging the operations gap

As more companies adopt technology to cut costs and increase efficiency, the need for integrated operations has never been greater. Integrating open pit and underground solutions for fleet management, machine guidance, operator assist and machine/asset health, HxGN MineOperate can help you navigate a straighter path to intelligent mining.

NJ: Thanks for tuning in to Mining Matters. Hi, I’m Neville Judd from HxGN Radio.

More companies are adopting technology to cut costs and increase efficiency, essentially doing more for less. Hexagon is continuing to advance its open pit and underground solutions for fleet management, machine guidance, operator assist, and machine and asset health. Here to discuss how Hexagon’s MineOperate portfolio bridges the gap between operations and planning are Rob Daw, Larry Estep, and Andrew Clark. Gentlemen, thank you for joining me today.

All: Thank you.

NJ: So, Rob, we’ll start with you. Doing more for less sounds simple, but what do you think it means for mining operations looking to cut costs and increase efficiency?

RD: Yeah. I think it’s an interesting statement, you know, doing more for less, and I think there’s a number of ways that we can really interpret that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we want to cut the amount of equipment on site or anything else like that or even the costs typically, and especially, as we say the majority of commodity prices at really high levels. This means how do we do more with what we have or ultimately how do we do more with more? And most importantly, how do we do that whilst maintaining efficiencies and ultimately keeping our cost per ton down. I think in the mining, we have a number of fixed costs. So, the idea of being able to increase our throughput with those fixed cost assets means we’ll be able to get a better return on the dollar. So how do we expand fleets, especially when sometimes we are spatially confined within our mining operation? How do we optimise the interaction between drill and blast with load and haul? How do we ensure optimal cross-feed for both tons and grade, and other things like how do we afford additional assets in the short and/or long-term horizons? I mean, these are just a few of the questions that typically come to mind when I’m asked of how do we do more for less in the mining industry?

And I think a big part of the answer is being able to leverage technologies that exist today, technology such as the mine planning tools that enable us to forecast out, taking into account all the different variables, forecast out into the future and also the ability to track and measure how we are performing. If we look at systems such as fleet management, that really gives us insights into what we did and when we did it. I think the old saying goes, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. So, I think it’s really important for us to understand where we’re heading and also how we can get there and how we’re performing to be able to look at how we can do more for less.

I think the other big area we need to continue to look at is look for opportunities in development, in technology that really assist the mining companies to continue to be competitive in the world market. And that is ultimately being able to—it’s price sensitive and how we drive those costs down. So, looking at technology today and adoption of what we’re trying to do, as well as looking into the future is critically important for the mining industry.

NJ: So, you alluded already to fleet management there. Larry, I wanted to ask you, I know there have been recent updates to the MineOperate portfolio and specifically to OP Pro. How do those updates differentiate OP Pro from other fleet management systems?

LE: Yeah, thank you. So, you know, OP Pro 3.0 is the newest release of Hexagon’s fleet management system for surface applications. And what OP Pro 3.0 has done is change the way that users experience interaction with the product, as well as introducing a variety of new capabilities within the hardware platform. So, what that does for us is it’s a foundation for expanding upon Hexagon’s strategy for integrating applications. OP Pro 3.0 is the base for the new onboard ecosystem. The new user experience presents relevant information in the right place at the right time for operators. It’s an all new look and feel updated with modern graphics and modern technology. And it makes the interaction with the application easier and more efficient for the operator, reducing the amount of time that they have to spend looking at the screen so that they can focus on the job in front of them in a safe and productive way. And in addition to the user experience on the screen, we also have introduced new capability within the hardware, taking advantage of expanded satellite coverage in the high-precision space, great peer-to-peer coverage, a peer-to-peer communications between machines, as well as some new communication strategies for how we get data from the machine to the office and how we receive corrections over UHF.
This will serve as the foundation for everything else that will come after it in this three-dot x version of fleet management. And we’ll be soon introducing a next version that will then bring another layer of application integration to the Hexagon onboard ecosystem. And then you’ll continue to see releases that continue to introduce new integrations across safety, across automation, across the operations, and then also eventually into underground.

NJ: So just to follow up to that, Larry, can you break down the benefits by end users? So, what would this mean for operators, for dispatchers, and for management, for example?

LE: Yeah. So, it’s all about making the right information available at the right time and reducing the clutter that has continued to grow in fleet management systems. It’s interesting. No matter which fleet management system you use, they all have suffered from the same issues as they’ve evolved over the last 20, 30 years. And vendors have continued to add functionality. And what’s happened is we’ve created a cluttered user experience. It’s difficult to see the right information that an operator needs to be more productive.

As a loader operator can take advantage of the new user experience in order to be able to have the relevant information about the material that he or she is loading, about the trucks that that operator is interacting with, and to be able to make real-time decisions based on the information that’s available to them. The clutter that existed on the screen before made it very difficult for operators to do that in a safe manner because there was so much information presented to them. So, from an operator perspective, it makes the right information available at the right time, reducing the risk that they have from a safety perspective and making their experience more efficient and effective.

From this factual perspective, the new communications on the screen allow dispatchers to be able to send information to operators, the relevant information at the right time, and have an interaction with the operator on the screen, reducing the radio clutter that typically exists in a mining environment. So, some of the communications, additions in OP Pro 3.0 allow again for a more efficient, effective method of communication with operators, reducing clutter, keeping those channels open for critical communications and critical safety-related information at the mine.

NJ: So as mining companies deplete their existing ore deposits, many go underground to extend the life of their mine. Andrew, how do you see the challenges of underground operations affecting their technology considerations in this space?

AC: Well, it’s interesting. When we talk about the differences between surface and underground mining, I guess the topic that always rears its head is communication. I suppose with comms, what we’re really talking about is having that visibility of what work is going on and where. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of traditional GNSS for positioning, so there’s the need to rely on point-to-point device recognition, and then within that we can use some smarts to indicate the actual assumed position between those access points.

I suppose what’s also critical is finding that sweet spot of cost and downstream benefit for a customer, when planning to digitise their underground operation. So not every site needs onboard nav or data intensive systems to facilitate autonomous machines and the like. But by engaging with customers early on in their digital journey, what we’re trying to do is implement a system that establishes the foundations to capture the critical 80 percent and then continue working with them to achieve that final 20.

But as you alluded to in your question as well, I suppose many operations already have an existing open cut operation before heading underground. What we want to be able to offer is a way to seamlessly transition the mine to sub-surface with little or no change in data management, security, and analytical processes that are already embedded across the stakeholders. We find that really important to the success of adopting technology underground.

NJ: Just a follow up or an open question, really, but perhaps we’ll start with you, Andrew, how do you see technology developing to assist mines moving underground? because the trend is only going to pick up, I’m sure.

AC: Yeah, exactly. And again, I really do think it’s the advances in underground network comms. LTE and good Wi-Fi infrastructure will really propel the industry forward very rapidly. I suppose off the back of this we’ll see that infrastructure to support large data packets, and this is where the really interesting stuff’s going to be.

Hexagons really well positioned as well to utilise that forward-looking technology, things like LiDAR to increase precision in underground mapping and point cloud digitisation. This really opens the door to some exciting prospects to the daily workflow of miners. Like, imagine cutting down traditional surveying time to mere minutes or being able to quickly scan shotcrete thickness, you know, before and after spraying. These are the day-to-day jobs that are really set to gain the most moving forward.

RD: We talk about underground mining as being a very capital-intensive type of mining method and recently we’re starting to see a lot more investigations into block caves and these types of operations in the industry. So, I’m also going to be interested to see where the different mining methods are going to take us. I think that’s really going to also enable us to look at underground mining differently, especially from a capital cost constrained point of view. So, I think as we start to be able to come up with different technologies, different machines, look at autonomous-type solutions more and more, it’s got to be able to affect how we mine some of these operations and ultimately reduce our costs up front in some of these areas. So, I think we can become a lot leaner, a lot meaner, and definitely try and come up with new and exciting ways to extract that mineral going forward as well.

LE: And I’d like to add in addition to Andrew and Rob’s comments, you know, underground mining is where surface mining was at 20, 30, 40 years ago in terms of the quality of information or the amount of information and data that is available to underground miners about the material that they’re going after. Advances in the ability to capture information about your commodity or your material is driving miners to look at ways that, as Rob said, to reduce that capital intensive spend, you know, to go after the right material. So, what’s happened now is because of the advances in the surface space, as miners go underground, they are demanding technology solutions that allow them to, so they know where they need to go, now they need to have technology that helps them get there, helps them move a minimal amount of waste to get to the quality ore and then to be able to measure against their plan to see where they’re at so that they can make adjustments in real time before it becomes costly and expensive downstream.

So, I think technology is evolving. Andrew mentioned advances in communications and new communication protocols. What that’s going to allow us to do is it’s going to allow us to take the great features that we’ve learnt in the service space, apply them to underground to make that job easier, make the miners more effective and efficient with the investment that they’ve made in their mine, and to be able to deliver a better solution at a lower cost.

NJ: So, just a final question. I’m just wondering, what are some of the ways now that Hexagon is helping mines to bridge that gap between planning and operations? I’m thinking perhaps, you know, how MineOperate, for instance, is converging with Hexagon’s other portfolios. Rob, any insight there?

RD: Yeah. I think we’ve seen an industry request and desire to want to be able to tie planning with operations together and be able to really understand, you know, what we’re doing, when we’re doing it, and why we’re doing it, and be able to put in that instantaneous feedback loop so that we can make the right decisions at the right time. So, I alluded to it earlier about how we are using our mine planning tools to look at forecasting in the short- and long-term point of view. And we have our fleet management that’s able to track and monitor what we’re doing in real time. So then bridging that gap, we’re actually able to start to really kick in that sort of short-interval control piece of what are we doing, what should have we done, and how do we get back on track with that plan? And so, the integration there or the release of the short-interval control capabilities within the Hexagon mining portfolios is really tying those two pieces together to be able to give people insights that have never really had before.

And I think it’s not just looking at how we do tie our planning and operations, but it’s looking at the whole ecosystem. So, how do we tie our safety with operations? If there is a potential rockfall in a pit, how do we make sure that people are alerted and aware to be able to avoid the area or get out of the pit? How do we make sure that, you know, with collisions and operators are safe out in the area between our operations? I think it’s all starting to converge and come together to really create that sort of smart device ecosystem and smart applications that really talk together. And this is what then provides the industry with situational awareness to be able to make the best decision based on all the facts. And I think the more and more we converge these sorts of solutions to make it easier for our operators, the more and more value we’re going to be gaining from or be able to gain from our mine management supervisors, dispatch, and everyone back in the office as well to really get the most out of their equipment. And as we said at the very beginning, do more for less. I think we get that full picture; we are enabling the industry to be able to do more for less. And I think that’s a critically important piece for our industry as we go forward.

NJ: I think we’ve come full circle. Gentlemen, thanks so much for your insight today.

RD: Thanks, Nev.

AC: Thanks, Nev.

LE: Thanks, Nev.

NJ: Thanks, guys. A big thank you to our guests, Rob Daw, Larry Estep, and Andrew Clark.

For more information about today’s topic, visit hexagonmining.com. To listen to additional episodes of Mining Matters or to learn more, visit hxgnspotlight.com. Thanks for tuning in.