The devil’s in the detail

I entered the mining industry during a boom, and joined Maptek a few years later when the industry was ramping up after a short lull. During this time it was interesting to see how Maptek remained optimistic and committed to resourcing R&D when global markets and demand for commodities were in a poor state, knowing the demand for technology would return.  The drill and blast sector, which can be one of the costliest activities for a mine, is now benefitting enormously from the attention given to the improvement of collecting, benchmarking and analysing data.

More recently the expectation for integrated systems has increased significantly. Better tools are needed to deal with the scale of today’s mines. Functional departments are also keen to increase coordination to support better decision making – optimising each element of the mining cycle as part of a total business system.

This requires a holistic understanding of all systems, processes and interfaces and how they fit together. The starting point is sharing accurate information quickly across the operation from a variety of data sources. This is no easy task considering the sheer scale of data flow involved and the high production velocity targeted. And without integration, unnecessary burden is placed on the end user to transform and import/export data to enable tasks across other functions.

Innovation and technology change is a key plank in addressing these challenges. Aligning with credible mining technology partners has never been more important. These partners intimately understand how operational functions intersect, and can build integrated, agile solutions accordingly.

With the market picking up, I’ve noticed smaller vendors are positioning their loosely integrated systems as an idealised solution. When it comes to trial or implementation, these are found to have significant gaps. In effect, some software vendors are asking miners to invest in something that does not yet work in an integrated way, on the promise they will improve the integration soon.

Stand-alone software apps used in isolation can be reasonably powerful tools. With connectivity and digital transformation increasingly becoming a core requirement of technology solutions, many mining software vendors are moving to better integrate their own apps, and support interfaces with third-party systems.

On paper various tech provider offerings appear the same – but if the solution is not built holistically from the get go then flaws can have a significant impact on long term mine performance. This problem is compounded where there is limited track record or development resources to positively support optimal integration of their software.

Getting isolated apps to integrate and support interfaces with third-party systems after they are developed is inherently difficult. While achievable, it generally requires a high development effort to work reliably when running data under the pressure of production requirements; any deficiency in how well the various components are integrated obviously leads to additional risk.

To be meaningful, any mining solution requires significant input of resources dedicated to addressing workflow and functional requirements as they change over time. That is the difference with sustainable software systems from specialist mining technology providers. The agile, iterative development behind BlastLogic has meant that drill and blast workflows can now intrinsically be integrated with other activities on site.

The devil really is in the detail, and the track record of your tech provider in implementing and supporting the solution can’t be under-valued. A true technology partner will positively influence operational improvement through their understanding of your value chain.

Mark Roberts
Business Manager, Mine Operations
August 7, 2018

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