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Mining companies taking to 3D and visualisation

Louis Morasse, Industry Solutions Manager, Autodesk
Louis Morasse
Industry Solutions Manager, Autodesk

Most mining firms are increasingly using geospatial technologies to create 3D infrastructure models and speed up the process of project planning, design and construction.

What is ahead for the global mining sector? How is geospatial technology helping the sector in meeting these challenges?

Though the mining industry faces a number of major challenges, the long-term global outlook for the sector is good (in terms of the fundamentals), as demand for industrial metals and energy minerals will grow in line with economic growth.

Increasingly, with mining operations shifting to remote areas, the cost of creating supporting infrastructure (like roads, rail, pipelines, and utility networks) and living facilities for workers create a host of challenges for mining companies. Autodesk provides design, engineering and visualisation technology that can help mining companies and engineering firms speed up the process of project planning, design and construction.

Companies are increasingly using laser scanning technology for both exploration (has been used for years now) and operations (for surveying stockpiles above ground, such as open pit or cast mining), and underground operations. One of the key benefits of using laser scanning is safety. Remote-controlled copters or vehicles fitted with laser scanning equipment can get us accurate view of pit walls, stockpiles, drifts (underground) etc. without risking people’s lives.

Geospatial plays a major role in safety and rescue ops. Think of the incident in Chile, a few years ago, when miners were trapped underground and geospatial technology helped the rescue team find and extract the miners. Rescuers managed to bring a camera down one of the bore holes and finally locate miners underground directly with coordinate systems.

Geospatial technology helps in preparation of maps and visualisations for stakeholders presentations, public hearings, and to sell a project concept to investors. For instance, one of our clients used the Autodesk Navisworks software to design an entire infrastructure project for a mine. And the mining company took the Navisworks model and brought it to an investors meeting to show them exactly how the mine will look like. The presenter was able to click on any part of the mine and get information about the entire infrastructure — and that sold the project.

Also, Autodesk InfraWorks is another key technology available now to the mining industry. Autodesk InfraWorks and InfraWorks 360 Pro gives users a new way to create preliminary designs and present information to stakeholders. Users can take advantage of the capabilities of Autodesk InfraWorks to rapidly aggregate multiple data inputs (including GIS, LiDAR, etc.) to create 3D infrastructure models. These models can then be used to engage project stakeholders and the preliminary design moved to AutoCAD Civil 3D software to optimise the design and create construction documentation. Using InfraWorks, project stakeholders can explore multiple design concepts and collaborate more effectively by making on-the-fly changes.

What is the level of deployment and awareness about geospatial technology in the mining sector globally?

Today, mining companies globally are aware of geospatial technology — but most will not call it so. They will call it something else, such as “driver-less truck or fleet control”. They will use different names for different purposes.
Most mining industry firms worldwide today are not really aware of Autodesk’s geospatial and GIS solutions, and our suite of products that combine infrastructure and geospatial capabilities into a single application. We have great tools, including Autodesk InfraWorks, AutoCAD Map 3D, and AutoCAD Civil 3D which enable the use of integration of geospatial/ GIS information within planning and design workflows.

A lot of mining companies use engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms to do their GIS or geospatial analysis, which is then directly implemented in the mining operations.

What according to you are the global best practices in the mining sector?

Companies are using simulation technologies (eg, mechanical stress and computational fluid dynamics) to simulate real-world conditions. This is especially useful for engineering and designing ventilation systems, equipment and for mine safety planning — evacuation routes, etc.

Also, adoption of Building Information Modeling (BIM) process will be critical for mining companies with respect to being able to recover, or reuse the existing data, for their new projects, or expanding existing projects so at least all the data is available to the stakeholders to re-apply to future projects instead of starting every time from scratch. BIM process also helps support 3D visualisations to communicate design intent and environmental impact for technical and non-technical stakeholders.

Which country according to you leads in adoption of the most advanced technologies in the mining sector?

A truly aggressive country is Australia. They are using all kinds of technology to reduce their costs. Take for intance, the driver-less truck fleet control system by Rio Tinto, which is using a wide array of geospatial technology (sensors, remote sensing, etc.) to reduce costs. Rio Tinto believes that with full automation, it will be able to reduce costs by about $72 million by 2016, which translates to 30-cent cost reduction per tonne of iron ore.

Another example is BHP Billiton (probably the largest mining company in the world) which is using all kinds of technology, such as remote sensing, GPS, aerial survey, etc, for making fast and flexible adjustments in its operation. For instance, geospatial technologies help it to know if it is hitting underground water while drilling or if there is a slope stability issue; in such cases, the company can quickly react by stopping exploration or moving its production to another area until the new area is set up.

Vale in Brazil is replacing its truck system with long GPS-based conveyors in one of its Amazon mines. It also wants to monitor the piling using satellite positioning and 3D laser scanning. By the time it achieves full automation by 2016, it aims to reduce the cost of fuel consumption (by trucks) by 77%

What is the level of awareness among the government and lawmakers about these cutting-edge technologies?

The image shows all the areas where Autodesk solutions are being applied for the mining industry.

The image shows all the areas where Autodesk solutions are being applied for the mining industry.

Mining companies today are generally more progressive than the governments about the awareness of these technologies. Companies typically go faster than governments because they are motivated by a need to have RoI as quickly as possible. We find mining companies today being very tech-savvy; if they can implement something for a million dollar investment to save $100 million in operating costs, they will do it aggressively.

Which are the future areas of application for geospatial technology in mining?

The future of geospatial technology is really going to be driven by Autodesk InfraWorks. It is a revolutionary approach for geospatial technology. It allows you to aggregate many sources of information (GIS, laser, photogrammetry, etc) in a “one stop shop” solution to quickly present design intent visually within the context of what is real.

We are not aware of any other solution available today that matches this capability. Overall, this is a tough question to answer, because a lot of the technology is already available, so it is not so much what future technology is coming, but, rather, a matter of applying this existing technology to mining.

Do you see trained manpower resource as a problem? Is there enough manpower which is skilled in geospatial yet have the understanding of the mining sector’s requirements and vice versa?

The technology used today is evolving so fast – and being used for areas that nobody thought it would be used for. For instance, who would have thought of driverless trucks operating in a mine! So you need very skilled people now, and a major problem is that many skilled people would not want to work in remote, hostile areas. Most of these highly talented specialists want to work in comfortable cities. This is a very big challenge for the future.