Planning, design and implementation of mining activities require geographic databases that are accurate and representative. Brazil-based Vale, the world’s second largest mining company, uses end-to-end geo-based solutions as part of its workflow.
Location is an integral part of mining operations — the primary question being where to dig. Mining activities require geoinformation in good quality, much more accurate and detailed as the projects progress. It is but natural that the geological and mineral data are regularly expressed in three dimensions because it becomes closer to the actual conformation of the bodies of interest.
Planning, design and implementation of mining activities require geographic databases that are representative and accurate. This representativeness is important because it brings to the table the arrangement of natural and cultural objects existing on the land in question, what is vital for clear and accurate identification of interferences, and the resulting environmental constraints. As for accuracy, its importance is related to the growing demand for environmental interventions for more rigorous modelling of the land.
Vale, as the second largest mining company in the world with operations in multiple countries, believes the technological changes taking place in the geoinformation field need to be explored in all its potential, so that the responses brought to planning, design, implementation and management activities can be utilised to the fullest. It becomes important to explore the development of more accurate and richer forms of data acquisition and geo-visualisation, faced with the increasingly important challenges like environmental issues, sustainable development and operational effectiveness. Vale uses the most advanced technology in all its mines and has gone for end-to-end solutions in many cases, which not only ensures smooth operations and safety, but also cuts down production costs.
At the centre of all transformation in Vale is GIS, which plays a strategic role in the integration and management of data from various sources. The GISMineral Vale enables the implementation of more sophisticated analyses, including the establishment of demands for a higher qualification of geographic data. It also gives valuable inputs to the activities in CAD environment that have been quite sophisticated with the increasing adoption of 3D geoviewers.
In this sense, the strategic vision of Vale gives special attention to all the possibilities created by geovisualisations and analyses 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 3D modelling technologies such as LiDAR, the digital ultra-high resolution imaging and monitoring of dynamic activities by GNSS, among others, must be exploited to the limit, to enhance the ability to produce best quality geoinformation for management and decision-making processes.
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 geovisualisation in virtual reality and 4D. These environments, though still in the developing stages, 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 is possible in future to give substance to the wider use of these solutions.
Vale has adopted state-of-the-art technologies and solutions since the early 2000s. 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 are basic elements to consolidate most sophisticated geovisualisation 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, there is a great effort to unify systems depending on the peculiarity 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 Vale network had directly determined the value of the geoidal undulation owing to the ellipsoidal height with the orthometric height of basic levelling using GNSS systems.
In terms of vector databases for analysis in GISMineral, compilations using digital photogrammetry are produced on the GIS with representation of all elements of special interest such as roads, rivers etc. These vector data, associated with photogrammetric and satellite orthoimages of high resolution, are very important to environmental and territorial monitoring, to asset management and to support associated activities in charge of health and safety in Vale’s operations, both in mining areas and in the transport infrastructure. 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.
Vale has generated orthoimages and compilations based on aerial photographs taken before the installation of its mining ventures. Thus, it is simultaneously looking into the past through its image collection and representations, and looking into the future with the virtual reality and modelling software. The concern over acquisition and analysis of spatial data has been one of the most important historical characteristics of the company. Vale also keeps a keen eye on the state-of-the-art in technologies and operating workflows, and 3D environments would be incorporated in everyday GIS environment and CAD solutions in the near future.
Vale indeed showed the way in using innovative technologies in mining operations. As one of the pioneers in automation, it invested $8 billion for a GPS-enabled ‘truckless’ system of conveyor belts that operates in world’s largest iron ore mine in the Amazon. The solution also enables automation of the recovery and piling through satellite positioning and 3D scanning, taking about 100 trucks off the site, reducing diesel consumption by 77%.
Participants at the Vale geovisualisation room understand about the context of production and use of spatial data
The vision for future
All this strategic direction regarding geoinformation could not fail to exploit to the limit the possibilities for geovisualisation of information afforded by the emergence of tri-dimensional view and dynamic virtual reality. For this reason, Vale decided to invest in the installation and operation of a room specially equipped for geovisualisation in virtual reality in order to build knowledge about the context of production and use of this form of visualisation of spatial data.
The company opted for a comfortable room for up to 20 people. The choice of equipment that make up the room was based on the experiences and developments made by the British Geological Survey in terms of so-called 3D Geology, with the adoption of the GeoVisionary solution that includes software developed by the company Virtalis in association with the BGS. From this state-of-the-art geoinformation, Vale’s vision for future is chalked out.
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. The possibility to flex the prospect of watching from the point of view of something that previously did not exist in the geo-informational static field or in two dimensions (the map) also had greatly enriched the perception of phenomena.
As the room became a place for discussion of ideas, we have noticed its growing use in critical decision-making processes, making it clear the strategic importance and the greatest wealth of geovisualisation in virtual reality. All people who participated in the meetings attest to the wealth of data visualisation in this context, while many feel that in the near future their daily work environments should have this wealth.
The results have reasserted Vale’s plan 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. 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. Geovisualisation environments in four dimensions appear to be very suitable for such analyses, 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 geovisualisation data in virtual reality indicates that the activities of design, planning and management become more rich and powerful in these four dimensions. 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 analyses, studies, projects and decision- making, particularly by the association between GISMineral and geovisualisation in virtual reality. Investments in sophisticated environments of geovisualisation will create conditions to improve the analyses, and make action plans and projects increasingly well adjusted to the reality on the ground.