A geospatialist today undertakes tasks ranging from data collection, data analysis to data management. Qualifications to sit on the ‘Geospatialist’s’ chair, too range from just a graduate in geospatial sciences and technologies, to a doctoral degree. There are hardly any geospatialists who are ‘pure’, as most are domain specialists from geology, geophysics, mining, construction engineering, surveying and even chemistry and the life sciences, who have extensively used geospatial S&T for their problem solving. So what does it take to be the be the one who shoulders the responsibility for telling the miners what to expect where? Richard Musselman, Jason Nitz, and Narendra Kavdia share their experience and thoughts.
Operations Support Engineer and Chief Mine Surveyor, Kinross Gold Corp, South Africa
Fleet Mgmt Systems Superintendent, Newmont Boddington Gold, Australia
GM, Exploration, Hindustan Zinc India
What are your role and responsibilities?
Richard Musselman: I am working as an operations support engineer/chief mine surveyor. I oversee the surveyors, dispatch system (hardware, training, wireless canopy, and data), hardware and systems for machine control. I also keep an eye on the hardware and data flow for slope monitoring (robotic, GNSS, and three radars).
Jason Nitz: My role is to evaluate, implement and support operational technologies that affect the mining fleet. It encompasses those technologies which are not normally looked after by the IT and are now generally known as Operations Technologies (OT). This includes geospatial technologies as it is a large part of what we do, specifically high-precision positioning.
Narendra Kavdia: I oversee exploration, enhancing the life of mine plans and finding new mines.
As a geospatial professional, how and why did you start working in the mining industry?
RM: My family has a long background in mining. In fact three of my four children are miners. I couldn’t think of doing anything else. Mining is a very stable job and the benefits are very good.
JN: I started working in the mining industry as an IT professional but soon realised that the technology used in operations was much more fun. I made the change by taking on positions that slowly lead to where I wanted to be. I also enrolled for two postgraduate degrees in mining engineering. This enabled me to understand how current mining practices work and wherehow technology has a role to play.
NK: Basically, I am a geologist and started working with the rubber, pencil and generation of hard-copy maps.
What would be your advice to others who seek career in this domain?
RM: The mining industry is always looking for skilled workers. The hardest challenge is that mining is a small sector and sometimes you need to know somebody to get through the door. I often see construction surveyors generally come from the project groups that have worked on an expansion project at a mine.
JN: They should choose a career path which is enjoyable and successful for them. Technology is the key to the future of mining and it will undoubtedly play a large role. Rather than choosing a degree in mining engineering, for instance, youngsters should think of backing this up with something in the technology space.
NK: The youngsters should keep in mind that technology is continuously changing in every sphere of life and with new versions replacing the earlier ones, great enhancement capability in data manipulations has to be meaningfully interpreted.
What are the present day challenges faced by geospatial professionals in the mining sector?
RM: One thing that is hard for many geospatial professionals is learning to switch from being all about precision to production mode. Many mines are located in remote parts of the world and rotations can be very long such as eight weeks on and two weeks off.
JN: The rate of change and adoption in technology are the biggest challenge in the mining industry. While technology can change quickly, mining companies are generally not that good in adapting this change at the same rate. For many, the cost of change outweighs the benefit derived from the change. Justifying this change is often a challenge which an average user cannot communicate.
Are academic courses for GIS professionals in mining aligned with the industry needs?
RM: Academic courses for the mining sector are pretty much non-existent. College-level courses teach outdated material and use old instruments. It has only been in the last few years that Trimble Dimensions and the World Spatial Forum started hosting courses for the mining industry.
JN: You would like to hope they are, but being ‘academic’ they rarely keep up with the latest technology and trends. Like most courses they are only valuable for a limited time or until too much change makes them obsolete. There’s nothing like gaining hands-on experience to supplement what is learnt in the classroom and that would be my advice to new professionals do not forget what you learnt in the classroom but be prepared to learn a lot more once you are on the field.
What lies ahead for the mining industry, in terms of opportunities or otherwise?
RM: The growth seems to be for more reliable remote sensing and autonomous machine control systems. The miner will be slowly removed from the mine and, I believe, only machine retrieval and hardware technicians will go into the mine. There will be definite growth in fleet management, hardware, and slope monitoring.
JN: The past few years have been tough for the mining industry, however, some light is appearing at the end of the tunnel now. But mining as we know over the past 10 years is about ‘change’, gone are the ‘good ole days’. Now there is a continuous improvement towards cost reduction exercises while increasing production at the same time — which is quite a challenge. This is where technology can play a major role with its ability to help ‘mine smarter’ which will drive down the costs. But the implementation cost of technology needs to make for a compelling case first.
NK: In one word — significant; however, the mining sector is influenced by commodity price cycle and the safety will always be a big concern.