The Grand Challenge for Data and Technology in Mining II

In my previous blog I discussed the Grand Challenge of today – harnessing Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Machine Learning to deliver better decision making outcomes in ways that are practical, robust and sustainable. 

Here are a few of the goals we’re looking to deliver for the mining industry by combining our technical nous and experience with emerging technologies:

  • Geological models that update automatically as soon as new drilling information is available.
  • Mine designs that are automatically based on current geological knowledge.
  • Schedules that react in real time to digger, truck, crusher and plant data to better engineer grade and blend.
  • Better understanding of how as-built mines are progressing against plan in real time so corrective action can be taken before equipment moves on.
  • A better understanding of the geotechnical environment so there are bigger margins of safety on mine plans or more aggressive mine plans can be chased.
  • Better economic optimisation of the entire operation.

We could perhaps call the last goal the Holy Grail of bringing these technologies into play.

While none of them are magically going to happen, we are certainly working on them all.

So how is Maptek working towards delivering these goals?

A deep technical strategy is required one that brings complementary moving parts together and overturns some of the conventional approaches to data and technology.

Underpinning this is a solid understanding of where our products fit in the mining value chain. 

This is best illustrated in the following diagram – a simple arrangement of our products as arcs showing the span of their application across key disciplines central to every modern mine site: geological modelling, mine planning, operations and measurement.

You don’t have to know what all the Maptek products are and what they do to get the idea. The key point is that there are insights and opportunities gained by not just viewing them as a bunch of different tools used by different mining professionals. They are often linked together into solutions – most powerfully when they mirror Deming’s virtuous cycle of process improvement of planning, doing, studying and then acting on what is measured to positively influence the next time around the cycle.


Some examples of how Maptek is increasingly playing host to this virtuous cycle and not just bringing a big box of technical tools include:

  • Geology can be updated from MWD data to positively influence blast design and load plans and improve grade control.
  • Geotechnical measurements and as-built conformance can influence future mine design and scheduling to maintain grade, blend and safety.
  • Post-blast fragmentation measurement coupled with up-to-date geological knowledge can positively influence blast load plans to reduce costs in crushing, equipment wear and explosive consumables.
  • Fleet management data can influence short term planning and scheduling in real time to improve short interval ore control.

The technologies and platforms behind our products are designed so we can better host the cycle. One might call them the hidden layers of the onion – the technology platforms that will be common to all Maptek products to make them work together automatically and solve bigger problems collectively.

The Maptek Workbench is a key component of this. The Workbench is a common interface and operating environment for all of our software. You can have multiple applications open at once looking at the same data, you can edit the data in one application and it is available in the other – avoiding any tedious import/export and format conversion – and workflows which let you graphically build automation pathways through the software, including across multiple applications, are at your fingertips in this environment.

Workbench Workflows turn rote tasks into automatic tasks, speeding up repetitive work and reducing the effort required. This quicker turnaround of results and reports as new data comes in with less effort starts to address the Velocity problem mentioned in Part I of the blog – relating back to Big Data and the IoT.

Our Vulcan geological modelling and mine planning software is already on the Workbench and has recently been joined by Eureka, bringing along new drillhole visualisation and geological modelling techniques. The most recent addition to the Workbench is PointStudio, our point cloud editing and modelling software. The Workbench environment is only going to continue to get richer with BlastLogic drill and blast optimisation software coming very soon, followed by our Evolution mine scheduling software.

Complementing the Maptek Workbench we have Maptek Account. It goes hand-in-hand with the Workbench by identifying who you are to Maptek cloud services when you sit at the Workbench.

Of course, you might ask ‘why would I want that?’ …

AI & Machine Learning algorithms often require a lot of computing power and in many cases using just a PC to run them is not feasible. Even running them in mine site server centres is not always the answer. Increasingly, we are using elastic cloud computing to run these algorithms. For example, our Evolution scheduling software uses machines configured with large amounts of memory and computing power in the cloud to run mine scheduling. Maptek Account provides the cyber secure gateway to increasingly bring this kind of functionality to the desktop in a seamless manner.

Maptek Account also lets you get rid of your flex floating licence servers or dongle licences and will be the future of all Maptek software licensing. Through it you can get software updates when you want them and it will provide an increasing role in interactive help and support.

This architecture puts Maptek and our customers in the best position to tackle the Grand Challenge. Later this month, in the third and final instalment of this blog, I’ll outline how we’re working with our partner PETRA and industry to solve mining challenges.

Simon Ratcliffe
Chief Technology Officer
October 3, 2019

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