By Dineo Phoshoko
The mining industry has recognised the value of implementing digital and autonomous solutions in both open pit and underground operations. Such elements have created opportunities for the development of software to assist and support various technological innovations in the mining industry.
The industry has seen software companies introducing various solutions which not only enhance technological innovations, but also complement existing technologies currently being used in the industry. Among them are the Candy and BuildSmart software solutions from CCS Mining & Industrial (CCSMI).
“CCS Candy estimating and project control solution is an essential software application for the estimation, management and planning of all projects, from estimating and feasibility studies through to award and ultimately project control or management to final account,” says Joe de Klerk, managing director. He explains that at the office or on site, Candy streamlines all project related processes — providing the accuracy and increased productivity required by mining and industrial professionals to improve margins, minimise risk and deliver on time.
CCS BuildSmart is a web-based enterprise management system. The system comprises integrated procurement, accounting and payroll modules. The system also has a host of added features to cater for the specific needs of contracting companies including plant, yard and store management, subcontract management, document control, business intelligence, HR as well as time and attendance.
“In essence, CCSMI provides a complete enterprise solution through adopting a ‘best-of-breed’ approach by integrating the essential elements of budgetary or allowable control and cost accounting to provide the project teams with real-time, reliable, auditable, accurate and activity based comparative analysis of costs and allowable ‒ the essential information that determines the success or failure of a project for the project team,” says De Klerk.
Other mining software solutions
Another solution is the Micromine 2018, a downloadable exploration and 3D mine design solution from Micromine. The software allows mining and exploration companies to attain an in-depth understanding of their project so that prospective regions can be targeted more effectively, increasing the chance of a project’s success. Micromine users are provided easy-to-use tools for modelling, estimation, design, optimisation and scheduling, resulting in increased productivity and cost efficiencies.
The 2018 version includes a new licensing system that works with or without a dongle and includes the ability to temporarily borrow a network licence without the need for a dongle or persistent network connection. This means more flexibility for Micromine users.
“The new licensing system provides our clients with more options when it comes to their licensing needs. The system maximises utilisation and allows for quick and easy access to the software,” says Frank Bilki, Micromine technical product manager. The next version of Micromine will be released in the second quarter of 2019.
In addition to Micromine 2018, there are also Geobank and Pitram software solutions. Geobank is a data management solution helping mining and exploration companies to maintain the quality, integrity and usability of their essential data. Geobank 2018 has a range of features and enhancements including a new and improved user interface, global substitution parameters and increased functionality when designing or editing graphic reports.
Pitram is a fleet management and mine control solution that records, manages and processes mine site data in real-time. As a scalable solution, it is suitable for underground and surface mine construction, development and production.
The system records data related to equipment, personnel and materials — providing an overall view of the current mine status and therefore enabling improved control over operations. Greater control allows sites to increase production, reduce costs, and improve safety and business intelligence. “The goal has always been to make our clients’ job easier,” says Micromine product strategy manager Paul Hooykaas.
There are also smart software solutions from Maptek including CaveLogic and Maptek Eureka. CaveLogic allows operations to run multiple scenarios using all their economic, geotechnical and practical considerations before mining starts. Planning engineers benefit from transparency across the entire process.
Visualising results dynamically improves communication and provides informed decision support. Mine planning is streamlined overall. Planners can track variables and processes, determine sequencing and generate production plans. The strategic CaveLogic approach improves operational productivity through confident production planning.
Maptek Eureka allows project geologists to visualise and interpret all available geospatial data. Drilling, seismic, gravity and magnetic data can be displayed dynamically in 3D to help drive discovery and generate accurate resource models. In addition, users can work with all available geospatial data on one platform. Easy identification of associations or anomalies can lead to a better understanding of the resource.
Compatibility with standard mine planning software file formats allows seamless transfer of projects from exploration through to mine design and production. Specialised modules that handle drillhole tools, seismic interpretation, implicit modelling and geotechnical analysis can be added to a base Eureka licence.
Benefits and challenges of mining software
“Mining companies are beginning to see that they will not succeed in the future unless they change the way they operate. They need to use data-driven insights to drive value,” says De Klerk. He adds that organisations are beginning to act on information to optimise production, reduce costs, increase efficiency, and improve safety. “In short, data — and the ability to organise, manage, and process it — is rapidly becoming a competitive differentiator and may even spawn new business models.”
In addition, de Klerk notes that innovation related to continuous development, and investment into new systems that will enhance the mine’s values and profit margins are among the software trends for mining. “Design software enjoys the benefits of highly sophisticated software solutions and investments, as well as ore-body analysis and mineral testing or production.”
Technological innovations using sophisticated software have had numerous benefits for the mining industry. However, it cannot be denied that complexities are inevitable with innovative technologies — leading to many challenges. “People are fixated with spreadsheets, being ignorant to the associated risks. Complex spreadsheets need to be understood and maintained by a certain resource, placing further constraints on the company,” he says.
Other challenges associated with mining software are people’s resistance to change. Directly related to this is change management within the organisation and people’s natural tendency to project their own IP (intellectual property) that was created in the organisation.
De Klerk mentions management’s buy-in as another challenge. “Implementation should be driven from the top down and often management does not recognise the value these systems will bring to their organisation,” he adds. Inadequate time and resources to train employees on software solutions is another challenge encountered with mining software.
Valuable lessons learnt
According to De Klerk, one of the common mistakes made by mining companies with regards to implementing software solutions is working in silos and having numerous disconnected software packages. “All the team players use different software platforms trying to achieve the same goal, leading to time wastage trying to consolidate the data from these different packages,” he says.
He says another common mistake is underspending on core systems, and there are also lessons that can be learnt from a management perspective. “Project managers are mainly production-orientated, neglecting the proper management of actual project costs (finance-orientated).”
“Companies should implement ‘complete solutions’ i.e., software packages that speak to one another, which makes the project process easier. This will streamline the reporting process and allow for big data BI [business intelligence] reporting that will provide the answers to operational questions,” says De Klerk. He believes this will enable organisations to react quickly to areas of concern with operations.
Another important factor De Klerk highlighted was an under-digitised approach by organisations. He believes it is best to digitalise all areas of an operation, from financials and project controls right through to the ore body and mineral processing. “We believe that the project’s success lies in control. The right software will give you not only control of your actual spend, but an intimate level of understanding of budgetary amounts, quantities, rates and actual costs. Thus, bringing all the key role players in the company together, to make informed decisions, from a complete holistic view of the project costs.”
The application of software in mining has had a positive impact on the industry overall. However, many challenges lie ahead in identifying problem areas and finding solutions for them. “The key to the overall success of any capital-intensive project, is delivery on time and within budget, while still maintaining your profit margin,” explains De Klerk. Application of the right software will assist with this.
“The right software with the right controls will help you understand where you have overspent, but more importantly, help you to re-budget the project to completion, highlighting upcoming problem areas,” he says. As a result, management will be able to take timely corrective action, which will result in cost savings.