The strategic role of geoinformation in Vale

The strategic role of geoinformation in Vale

Patrícia Moreira Procópio Calazans
Geoinformation — GGAEMF, Vale

Luiz Henrique Guimarães Castiglione
University of State of Rio de Janeiro, UERJ


The most important activities conduct by Vale take place in the territory where there are minerals that form its portfolio of commodities and infrastructures that support the operation of Vale”s supply chain. Indeed, the data and information that are important to its business must to be associated to the territory, in order to ensure the company to have an integrated and effective management of all its resources, reserves and processes, not only in time but also in space. What is presented below is the vision and solutions that Vale believes as important for the consolidation of the use of geoinformation, in the set of all its vital processes.

The strategic role of geoinformation

Planning, design and implementation of mining activities require geographic databases that meet important demands of representativeness and accuracy. This representative is important because it brings to the analysis the arrangement of natural and cultural objects existing on the land, what is important to clear and accurate identification of interferences and environmental constraints to undertaking. As for accuracy, its importance is related to the growing demand for environmental interventions ever more surgical and for the more rigorous modelling of the land on which it will make the implementation of the project.

In this sense, the technological changes taking place in geoinformation field need to be explored in all its potential, so that the responses brought to the planning, design, implementation and management activities can be the best possible. At the center of all these transformations is the GIS, which play a strategic role in the integration and management of more accurate data from various sources. The GISMineral Vale is the system that implements this environment and enables the implementation of more sophisticated analyzes, including the establishment of demands for a higher qualification of geographic data. Of their databases come the inputs to the activities in CAD environment that have been quite sophisticated with the increasing adoption of 3D geoviewers.

With regard to the chain of planning, exploration, design, implementation and enterprise management, it becomes important to explore the development of more accurate and rich forms of data acquisition and geovisualization, face to the increasingly important commitments to the environment, sustainable development and operational effectiveness. Is strategic in this context to explore the limits of geoinformation capability in representation of the territory covered by the project, considering the best representations and better knowledge of the land, may facilitate more sustainable solutions.

The strategic vision of Vale, in this sense, gives special attention to all the possibilities created by geovisualizations and analyzes undertaken in 3D, in Virtual Reality environments and in the extensive integration of historical data that allow analysis in four dimensions, incorporating the historical series of transformations to the analysis context. The emergence of three-dimensional modelling technologies such as LiDAR, the digital ultra-high resolution imaging and monitoring of dynamic activities by GNSS, among others, must to be exploited to the limit, to enhance the ability on produce a best qualify geoinformation to management and decision making operational. The solutions that have been adopted are generally described below.

Geoinformation solutions adopted

The general orientation of research and activities developed by Vale is facing a generation of data and information production for analysis and geovisualization in VR and 4D. Though these are environments in the embryonic stage, relate to the general operation routine of Vale, the guidelines for the production of geographic data is already referred to these environments, so that it will be possible, in the future, give substance to the wider use of these solutions, which will be, in Vale”s view, the context of geoinformation use.

As general solutions adopted since the early 2000s, we highlight the use of digital images of high resolution, the generation of digital terrain models through the LiDAR and the integration of data from diverse sources in the GIS environment, which are basic elements to consolidate most sophisticated geovisualization environments.

As a company that has been operating since the mid-twentieth century, Vale implemented a large part of its operations before the widespread use of GNSS solutions for the establishment of horizontal and vertical reference systems. As a result, develops a great effort to unify systems, depending on the particularities of each of its mineral provinces throughout Brazil. For the georeferencing of spatial data acquisition, Vale established its own networks of reference with orthometric heights determined by geometric levelling from official Brazilian references and determination of geodetic coordinates within the GNSS system, with provisions for determining high precision. Each milestone Vale network still had directly determined the value of the undulation geoidal, due to the confrontation of the ellipsoidal height, determined by GNSS, with the orthometric height, of basic levelling.

In terms of vector databases for analysis in GISMineral, from all areas of interest are produced compilations using digital photogrammetry, with representation of all elements of special interest to the GIS, such as roads, rivers and etc. These vector data, associated to photogrammetric and satellite orthoimages of high resolution, are very important to the environmental and territorial monitoring, to the asset management and to support associated activities in the control of health and safety associated with Vale”s operations, both in mining areas and in the transport infrastructure, as in the case of railroads. The guideline of Vale”s operations, which runs through all its initiatives, is to reduce the risk exposure, of all people associated directly or indirectly to its activities.

The concern with the formation of these geographical databases has already reached the transformations over time, through the establishment of images temporal collections, including the generation of orthoimages and compilations based on aerial photographs taken before the installation of Vale”s ventures. It is simultaneously view looking to the past, through the setting up of images collection and representations of past times, and looking to the future, through the concern to continue acquiring spatial data that will conducive to series able to instructing the knowledge about development of the most important historical processes of the company.

All this strategic direction regarding geoinformation could not fail to exploit to the limit, all the possibilities for geovisualization of information afforded by the emergence of tridimensional view and dynamic and VR. For this reason, Vale decided to invest in the installation and operation of a room specially equipped for geovisualization in VR, in order to build knowledge about the context of production and use of this form of visualization of spatial data, in addition to preparing their teams to living the paradigm change for this proactively view.

It was also decided in the context of exploitation the potential of VR environments, to keep a permanent eye on the state of the art in technologies and operating workflows, more suitable to the Vale”s objectives, pending that, in the near future, 3D environments to be incorporating to everyday GIS environment and CAD solutions. We opted for a sufficiently comfortable room for up to about twenty people that could collectively evaluate solutions of geovisualization in VR. The choice of equipments that make up the VR room was based on the experiences and developments made by BGS – British Geological Survey, in terms of so-called 3D Geology, with the adoption of the GeoVisionary software, developed by the company Virtalis in association with the BGS. From this state of the art of geoinformation in Vale, visions of the company future are formed, expressed below.

The vision of Vale”s future

Mining activities require dimensional geoinformation in good quality and much more accurate and detailed according to the projects progress, it means, as much as follow the way that leads from the initial planning to the final detailed project. In terms of the main theme, geology and mining associated with it, it is natural that the geological and mineral data are regularly expressed in three dimensions, depending on the analysis of the ore bodies that want to evaluate. In this sense, the three-dimensional and dynamic vision leverages all analyzes to be undertaken, because it becomes closer to the actual conformation of the bodies of interest.

In the future views of Vale, the experimental uses of RV room show its importance in simulations of risk assessments, action safety plans and geological and environmental studies, which signal an enhanced and more effective use of geoinformation, including the expansion of interdisciplinary discussions that these environments provide. This is an important result to highlight of the first experiences: VR room, as a place of interaction and work with geovisualization of data and information, has been a big promoter locus of ideas interaction, with encouragement to interdisciplinary exchanges. The possibility to flex the prospect of watching, from the point of view, something that previously did not exist in geoinformacional static field, in two dimensions (the map), also had greatly enriched the perception of phenomena and the idea exchange among the participants of the meetings were promoted, including signalling the prospect of developments in the interdisciplinary relationship between the various areas involved.

As the room became a place for discussion of ideas, it was noticed its growing use in critical decision-making processes, making it clear the strategic importance and the greatest wealth of geovisualization in virtual reality. All meetings held at the Center, and the opinions of people who participated in them, attest to the wealth of data visualization in this context. Several people expressed the expectation that in the near future, their daily work environments can have this wealth of data visualization. Also reinforces the belief that this investment has an important role in shaping the cultural transition to the workplace of the future, which looks at current anticipated uses of VR room.

Result reasserted by anticipations of Vale”s future the importance to invest in creating geodatabases in four dimensions, combining space and time, and also the possibilities of working with a kind of augmented reality by superimposing planning and projects on landscape virtual reality, created in this environment. The prominence given to these questions refers to the fact that time is an important variable in planning and project, and regarding to sustainability, the long-term analysis are increasingly vital. Geovisualization environments in four dimensions appear to be very suitable for such analyzes, including allowing the overlapping data of all kinds, in addition to landscape perception in virtual reality, creating conditions for the development of so-called augmented reality.

It seems reasonable to conclude that the geovisualization data in virtual reality indicates that the activities of design, planning and management become more rich and powerful in these four dimensions environments. This reaffirms the paradigm change from 2D to 4D in these activities, reinforcing the importance of preparing the work teams for future changes in their environment analysis, studies, projects and decision-making, particularly by the association between GISMineral and geovisualization in virtual reality. Added to this, the fact that the project activities are increasingly dealing with environmental restrictions, which create increasing demand for deeper and richer its territory representations. Investments in sophisticated environments of geovisualization will create conditions to improve the analysis, in terms of accuracy, and make action plans and implement projects increasingly well adjusted to the reality on the ground.