HxGN RadioPodcast

Mining Matters: MinePlan 50: The evolution of 3D modeling, data visualisation & planning

For half a century, geologists and engineers worldwide have used MinePlan to improve their productivity. The powerful portfolio is the only 3D modelling, data visualisation and planning software supporting adaptable workflows from exploration to production for all open pit and underground commodities. 

JS: Thanks for tuning into Mining Matters. Hi. My name’s Jose Sanchez from HxGN Radio. Hexagon is celebrating a golden anniversary of powerful innovation and partnership as Hexagon MinePlan turns 50. Here to discuss the history and change within the portfolio are portfolio manager, Marc Poualion; Product Manager, Seth Gering; and Principal Mine Planning Specialist, Ernesto Vivas. Gentlemen, thank you for joining me today.

ALL: Hi, Jose. Great to be here. Hey, Jose. Great to join you today. Hey, guys. Thank you for having us.

JS: I’m going to start with an open question. Fifty years is a huge milestone. Let’s look back. What was mine planning like before computer software? Describe some of the challenges that were around.

EV: I could help answer that question, Jose. I have been around some of our clients that have been around for a long time, and they have described what it was like 50 years ago, running around town with a whole bunch of punch cards, because that’s how they computed back then. What’s interesting is that if you go back even further back, like 100 years ago, you’ll find out that the inventor of the punch card tabulating machine was actually a mine engineer that went to become an IBM employee later on. And in fact, there’s a lot of connections that come from that because it was also IBM that later developed Fortran, which is a computer-programming language that even the NASA use to this day when they had a critical mission. But there are things like, for example, all the pit optimisations routines that were developed in the ‘60s were also developed by a couple of engineers called Lerchs–Grossmann that also happened to work at IBM. And around that same time of the ‘60s, we were using those algorithms in our computer software to pit optimisation because we had one of the first pit optimisations in the industry. But it was a little bit slow. The computers were slow, and the algorithm was slow. So, people were actually adopting more the floating cone. It was faster. But as the computers advanced in the ‘90s and stuff then, like the Lerchs-Grossmann gained popularity again and then even other algorithms, like the Pseudoflow came out, and things have continued to evolve and improve, and we’re doing optimisation for schedules. The whole computer and information system has grown a lot more. It all started with the punch cards.

JS: That’s really cool. Seth, I’m going to ask you the next question, just about your experience. What was your first experience with MinePlan like? What were your impressions, and how was that first sort of meeting with MinePlan, and also, how long have you been using MinePlan software?

SG: That’s a great question, Jose. And actually, my first experience using MinePlan was working for a different company. I was a contractor, and we were working on a geophysics project at a mine in Mexico. We really needed to get some data from about the leach pad where we were working with from the surveyors. So, we went to go find the surveyor office. We found the surveyors, and they were using MinePlan at the time, so we sat down with them. I explained what we needed, what we were trying to achieve, and they were able to get the information to us that we needed, the three-dimensional profiles of the leach pad where we were working, plus some other information that was important for the project. At that time, I was using the GIS systems, which have some limitations. They’re only 2D, and they’re not always very strong on the processing side. So, I was really impressed with the 3D visualisation and the modelling capabilities of that software. And about a year later I applied to work at MineSight, or now Hexagon, called MinePlan, to work on the platform, and I’ve been using the tools for the past 10-plus years, and I still really enjoy working on new challenges with customers and working with the platform and learning what we can do with the tools.

JS: Thank you, Seth. Ernesto, I know you have always been very, very big on how our software can help with productivity, profitability, how it can make a difference. Could you describe some of your more memorable interactions with customers where you realised that the difference that MinePlan can make on productivity and profitability?

EV: Absolutely. That’s a really good question. And I like how you asked the question, because the truth is, at the beginning I didn’t know. You know, you start working with the clients and you help them and you realise, like, ooh, we’re working on a budget plan, we’re working on a life-of-mine plan. Either way, these plans, they have a value, and they have some key indicators and parameters which have a lot of ramification downstream, not just for the mine-planning team, but for everybody else, from the plan to environmental, legal, etc. So, I started to realise the importance of that, that when we say that you were going to produce X amount of tons or grade, that there was a value, a cost, associated with all of that, that have to be met. So, it was really, really interesting. And I started to realise that the reason that I was with them was to help them improve that, improve that plan, improve the value, improve the profiles of the truck hours, of the quality parameters, etc. So, I started to write about it and make note about it. And yeah, there had been a few cases that I can remember which we have documented well, in which productivity and profitability have been very, very exposed, which a lot of plans don’t like to expose that, for confidentiality reasons. But in some cases, they have. I can tell you, for example, in the case of Peña Colorada, that was one case that was published in the Mining Engineering magazine. And it said, like, how many—it was, like, $35 million that they were able to save and improve by improving the haulage routes and by basically having a dump discharge plan, which was optimised. But that was one of many factors because there were other technology that they were applying from Hexagon, like the fleet management system, the slopes, because everything has to be done safely. So, there are other things that come into play which will help you achieve that value. Those stories, they also can be documented separately, like I have had other stories that are also memorable. In fact, talking about the Mining Engineering magazine, it’s October, and I just got the October issue, and in the October issue, there is a paper that we published for a memorable case study in the mines of New Caledonia, in which you’re trying to make the mine more profitable, but you’re subject to environmental regulations. So, you’re a lot more limited in what you can do. So, it’s really, really important that you even try to, like, get the most value out of it because it’s marginal, like when the costs are so high, it’s even more important that you realise and uncover value by using our tools. … one great, great example that we also published, we published this a couple years ago, they are really good users on the use of our tools, etc., etc. And I was helping them with a project, and I just noticed that they were not using multiple-period optimisation for their five-year budget plan, which is basically year by year. And I asked them, have you tried it? Give it a chance? And they did. But because it takes a little bit more time, sometimes they don’t do it. But in this case, they did it, and it didn’t take that much more time. But when you run the multiple-period optimisation, you improve their cut off, improve the value of the project. And it was a little tweak that uncovered a lot of value, just like you said.

JS: Thank you, Ernesto. Seth, you’re an integral part of the development team as a product manager. You and Marc both influence so much of what happens in our software and what the priorities are. There’s been recent improvements. What are some of those recent improvements? is going to be one of my first questions. But also, you know, not only that our users can take advantage of these new improvements, but also, how often and how important is the customer feedback on those improvements? How much does that weigh on those improvements in the decision to take certain improvements over others?

SG: Thanks, Jose. And I agree. I think Ernesto hit the nail on the head with the description there of this positive interaction and the importance of that and focusing on the ROI, with partnering with our customers on these solutions. To answer the question, you know, how often our improvements inspired by customer feedback, 100 percent. So, every one of the tools and the new features that we put into our development roadmap are all based on customer feedback. They’re all built on the relationships we have with our existing customers and really go into the sites and listening to what their challenges are and trying to target as much as possible the solutions we can, that they’re going to improve their efficiency, performance, and ultimately, the ROI for the operation. I remember in our old building we had a hallway that would stretch all the way across the building, and there were pictures that went all the way back, 10, 20, 30 years of the training sessions and the interactions we’ve had with our customers. And after a while of looking at those, you know those people well. You know what they’re—you know the sites they work at. You know the pain points that they have been working on. And you’ve been in the training with them. You’ve helped them through problems. And so, knowing the challenges that they’re feeling and being able to work with the customers to deliver those improvements is definitely one of the things that we put a lot of emphasis on in our tools. And it’s, you know, really all of our feedback, all those people have contributed to our platform and making it continuously evolve over time. I think some of the most recent improvements that our customers see today are, of course, in MP3D, we always continue to add usability and functionality features into the core platform of MP3D. Some of the newest features we have there: hotkeys. So being able—we’ve heard from a lot of our customers. They want to do their workflows faster and easier, less button clicking. So, we’ve added the hotkeys option to really enable our users to get their work done more quickly. Also, some other tools, remote folder, being able to share information more easily. And then the new Reserve 4.0 that we’ll be releasing soon. It’s going to add some performance improvements to our existing Reserve calculations. So, all of these feature improvements, again, they’re driven by our customer feedback. In general, we’re hearing from our customers. They want the tools to work faster, easier, and with better integration. So that’s where the majority of our time is being spent right now.

JS: That’s awesome, Seth. Thank you so much. That’s really exciting stuff, and we’re always looking forward to seeing the newest and latest improvements and enhancements. Last question, Marc, goes to you, and it’s really a big one. The question is, how will MinePlan develop and improve in the next year and maybe even looking forward to the next 50 years? If you could kind of extend a little bit further out, we’d love to hear what the plan is.

MP: Yeah, for sure. Thanks, Jose. So, for our customers and just for the industry in general, the future looks just really bright. Over the next year, the planning portfolio at Hexagon Mining, we’re developing a number of different technologies that are going to enable integration with other parts of our mining division to deliver really seamless interaction between our geological modelling, mine design, scheduling, operations, that we’ve—of products that we’ve got in the mine-planning portfolio, but also those in the operations portfolio, like the fleet management systems, as well as business-intelligence reporting and analytics and equipment-automation systems, and all these things. So, on a number of fronts, our customers are going to see us bring really robust products and integrations that deliver market-leading and really industry-changing functionality that are all going to be built on cutting-edge technology, really. That is where we are right now. And, you know, as abstract as that sounds, that description does actually apply to a number of our projects in which, you know, a vast majority of our customers get to see a substantial degree of value, a better performance in our existing products or higher levels of stability or reliability. The ability to switch between functions from multiple solutions seamlessly, it improves interactivity, it improves the general user experience, just improves the workflow, just in a general sense. We’re being much more customer driven and much more focused on how our customers experience our products. Much more importantly is how they actually accomplish their goals and deliver the expectations that they set for their leadership. For us, that means we have to deliver to the expectations that not only we set for ourselves, but the expectations that our customers have of us as well, moving into that bright future. In terms of, I guess, to answer the second part of your question, in terms of what we can expect long term, we’re already seeing early stages of artificial-intelligence implementations internally, and we’re already looking at how we can use AI machine-learning algorithm to make our customers’ lives easier, reduce their workloads and grant them the ability to analyse different scenarios using ranges of parameters, just making simpler and much more efficient decision making and much better business outcomes as a result of that decision making. The sooner we can make educated decisions about anything, we vastly reduce the amount of time that we have to make that positive impact on the business, which is really, really important because mining, the mining industry, and just operational mine moves so quickly. A decision that you make today may not have the impact that you’d want it to have if you made it three days from now. But, you know, that’s just one example of how the backend technology is going to change how surveyors, geologists, mining engineers go about their daily business. There’s also the end-user facing part of these experiences. It’s going to change dramatically. Right now, the vast majority of interactions with technology at mine sites happens, I guess, at the professional level happens as part of a desktop experience. Someone sits down at a desk in an office, boots up a computer, runs a piece of software on a desktop or a laptop machine. But, yeah, as we progress, you know, as we move towards more sophisticated technology and as that technology develops, more will move away from that office-locked experience to a scenario where we’ve got mobile and cloud-based technologies that allow for maximum mobility. So the people who have field staff can take their data with them, visualise it wherever they need to, run analyses and gain fast insights quickly and efficiently, allowing them to really adjust their operational approaches and be responsive to that ever-changing landscape on mine sites and just be as effective as possible. That level of access to information is going to make all their customers’ operations far more productive, more efficient, better for stakeholders, better for the operational environment, much higher level of ability to be reactive and be proactive as well. Efficiency draws benefits on all these fronts. So, I think that the impact there is going to be profound. And in the future, it’s entirely possible. We see staff exposed to dangerous mine sites. And I mean, I’m talking quite a distance away. I mean, probably the next 15, 20 years, we’re talking now. That’s entirely possible. There are mines out there that just won’t need human interaction anymore. Those people will be focused on a different set of tasks. Same number of people doing the same, running the same operation, just doing very different things around them. Sourcing the information and processing it and analysing it and doing all sorts of things like this. So, there’ll be much more decision making and much more sort of oversight and management and a lot less of the hands-on work will be done by people. I think a lot of that will become automated and just generally a lot more efficient. The people’s time will be spent on much higher impact runs. Yeah, it’s fascinating, and it’s actually very exciting.

JS: No, I totally agree with you, Marc. I think, you know, our company in general, Hexagon, is always pushing towards a future that brings automation into everything, and I think we fit right in there, exactly as you’re saying. The future looks really, really exciting. Thank you so much for that insight. A big thank you to our guests, Marc, Ernesto, and Seth. For more information about today’s topic, visit hexagonmining.com. To listen to additional episodes of Mining Matters, visit hxgnspotlight.com. And thank you so much for tuning in.