Drill and blast presents mines with two main challenges: First, it’s a complex, multi-layered, process that can be difficult to get right. Small errors at any stage compound to create costly consequences later. Secondly, ore grades are declining. Mines are digging more earth for less ore. Preventing ore loss by even one percent can mean millions of dollars for a mine. Combining technical expertise, integrated solutions, and enterprise analytics, Hexagon is helping mines to make each blast smarter than the last, improving ore yield one percent at a time.
NJ: Thanks for tuning into Mining Matters. Hi, I’m Neville Judd from HxGN Radio.
It’s no secret that mines are digging more earth for less ore while dealing with mountains of drill and blast data. Here to tell us how Hexagon is helping customers to make each blast smarter than the last is Seth Gering, Jeff Loeb, Adrian Kirk-Burnnand, and Tom BoBo.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining me today.
SG: Of course.
NJ: You bet. So, Seth, let’s start with you just for some context. Drill and blast obviously affects so many downstream processes. What are some of the consequences when execution deviates from the plan?
SG: Oh, thanks, Neville. This is a really good question. There’s a lot of other negative consequences that can happen when you deviate from the plan, as you suggested. There can be scheduling challenges due to boulders or slow movement. Also, deviations in the plan can result in safety issues to personnel or equipment, especially something due to fly rock or other types of safety concerns. It can require excessive energy usage or even delays of the crusher due to uneven fragmentation. For example, if the holes aren’t drilled correctly and the plan isn’t executed as designed. So, a lot of those—and those things can be either large or small. In addition to the negative consequences of the blast itself, a deviation from the plan really affects every single downstream process. So, getting it right will improve the bottom line and the safety for blasting and all of those downstream processes.
NJ: And Tom, what role does fragmentation play in when we’re looking at those downstream processes? What impacts can there be?
TB: Yeah. Sure. That’s a good question. I think Seth hit it on the head with a couple of initial things there. And when you’re talking about deviation, you have a plan and blasting never goes as planned. That can just be out the gate. Nothing goes as planned. So, you have to understand what deviated from the plan and how that impacted the production, how that impacted the blast. So, you know, a slight change in the hole placement can have a big difference in the result and fragmentation. You know, as I say, getting it right, putting the hole in the right place and the right depth is 60 or 70 percent of getting drill and blast right. So that is one of the biggest impacts, the timing and sequencing, making sure all the explosives are loaded properly, the hole depths, those are the things that—they can plan it perfectly, but it never goes as planned. So, understanding the deviations that are acceptable and the deviations that are unacceptable to impact production and impact the downstream.
NJ: So, given everything that can go wrong, how does Hexagon help mines mitigate, measure, and manage some of those effects that we just talked about. Jeff?
JL: Yeah. So, building off of what Tom and Seth have said, like any project or activity on a mine site, sound execution always begins with that planning phase and MinePlan Blast enables engineers and geologists to design the blast for intended outcomes, whether that’s direction of the throw fragmentation, adverse environmental effects like vibration, overpressure, that kind of thing, or blast-induced dilution. Now, that’s a great starting point. But as Tom said, things rarely go to plan and different factors can result in less than optimal outcomes that you design for. And those might be preventable, or they might be unforeseeable. Fortunately, we have a solution with both our tablets and high-precision drill technology to enable optimal execution of the plan, mitigating everything from those hole location deviations to overloading or underloading explosives or stemming. And that’s going to increase the likelihood that the desired outcomes are achieved.
Now, the next step in that process, and this is absolutely critical, you cannot manage what you don’t measure. And Hexagon is the only company in the world that combines the aforementioned approach with subsurface blast movement measurement during the blast, and that in combination with fragmentation analysis from the shovel at the face of the post-blast muck pile and beyond, the benefits really are twofold. Not only are you minimising blast-induced ore loss dilution and misclassification and identifying rock fragments that are out of spec, but you’re also leveraging this data to feed back into the next blast to mitigate those unforeseeable factors that are affecting less than optimal blast outcomes.
NJ: Thanks, Jeff.
So, Seth, how important is it for planners to receive feedback from the actual activities in the field?
SG: The actual data feedback is extremely valuable for the planners, really, because it provides several types of opportunities to adjust the plan in both the short term and long term. In the short term, unexpected water in holes, for example, or collapse holes can be adjusted using different types of explosives or even moving the hole locations in order to achieve that optimal blast. And this really, these little adjustments that if we can get the information back to the engineers quick enough, allow the engineers to make adjustments that will improve the safety and the bottom line of that blast for the blast and for all the downstream activities.
Longer term, that actual data really helps with comparing the design versus actual and provides the foundational pieces for a process of continuous improvement, where operators can compare what they designed versus what actually happened and adjust for the next blast. However, it isn’t just enough to get that data fast enough. It also has to be presented in a way that is meaningful and usable for the engineers. So, getting that information back quickly in a way that provides intuitive or intuitive dialogues or ways that provide rapid insights really enables the engineers to make the data decisions quite quickly and optimise the blast.
NJ: Thanks, Seth.
I do want to get to fragmentation in a moment, but first, Jeff, if I can just return to you. Describe the role of blast monitoring in this tailored solution.
JL: Yeah. So, the value proposition of blast movement monitoring in isolation is very well known and established globally. We estimated in 2019 that we’ve helped more than 130 mines globally, recognised more than $9 billion of additional value through accurately measuring the subsurface movement and translating ore declines to minimise ore loss dilution and misclassification.
But there’s two additional benefits to the combination of this technology within the Hexagon mine measure stack that mines may be unaware of. The first is Blast Movement Monitors allow drill and blast engineers to focus on the right KPIs. So, I’ve been to many mines across the globe and a common question that I receive is what’s our target movement? What should we be aiming for? And while it’s great that the drill and blast engineer is thinking about ore displacement, it’s the wrong question. So, the focus or the question should really be, what is your target fragmentation? Whatever that powder factor is to achieve that, movement is simply a byproduct of the energy and equals energy. So, with BMMs, (Blast Movement Monitors) the degree of that byproduct movement is irrelevant with direct measurement in ore translation.
Secondly, and I think this is the most exciting part about the addition of Blast Movement Technologies to the Hexagon family, the Blast Movement Monitors connect the downstream blast outcomes such as split fragmentation analysis of the post-blast muck pile face to the upstream processes such as planning and execution. So really, that in turn closes the loop on the entire process.
NJ: I’m still actually reeling from the $9 billion figure. That’s pretty extraordinary. I know fragmentation analysis has also been responsible for saving mines a lot of money in the past. Tom, I’m just wondering if you can explain how it fits in to this holistic approach.
TB: Yeah, thanks. My colleagues have certainly set the table here for me with all the references to fragmentation measurements and all the rest. So, with the Split suite of automated fragmentation systems from our Split-ShovelCam systems to the TruckCam systems in the mine itself to the downstream processes. This is where there’s a geometric increase in efficiency or inefficiency as you go downstream. So, the further downstream we go in the process, the less efficient the process goes. So, it’s more important to be right on the money in terms of fragmentation and particle size distribution.
So, with that being said, kind of hitting on what Seth was talking about initially, you know, that drill and blast affects so many downstream processes where the consequences of not getting it right, well, it can be catastrophic if you don’t get it right. So effectively, you know, when you’re doing the drill and blast how that deviates from plan, that’s a critical point in the process. So, making sure that you get the drill burden and spacings correct, making sure that you get the hole correct is really 60 to 70 percent of the drill and blast getting it right. And then you put the explosives in there and then you have the fragmentation you’re trying to achieve. So ultimately, that sets the table and sets the tone for the downstream processes. How efficient will the—how efficient was a blast in terms of particle size distribution? Is it easy to dig? That gets to rates of flow of how many trucks you can feed the primary crusher in an hour and that gets into throughput in the downstream processes. So, if you’re fragmenting the material at the right, desired fragmentation, then you’re able to achieve those increased throughputs. So, fragmentation analysis gives that metric that is required in that feedback. You know, it’s so funny because Jeff said it right out the gate there. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. So, if you’re not measuring your process, how do you know how you’re doing? So, getting that metric in the operational process from the mine through to the mill, it gives the operation, they know what’s going on.
To give you perspective, when you’re typically operating, let’s say, a mill, one of the metrics they have is tonnage. So, you have what we call a weightometer and the weightometer tells you how many tons are going into the mill. But it doesn’t tell you the size of the material. It could be 10-inch material and it could just clog up the mill and not have any throughput, or it could be three- or four-inch material and it could flow through nice and easy. So, having that extra piece of the puzzle to help operators control their processes gives them that extra piece of information that helps complete the puzzle of mining.
NJ: Thanks, Tom.
So, there’s obviously so much data accumulated over all these steps and no conversation about making sense of data is complete, obviously, without discussing enterprise capabilities. And Adrian, you’re portfolio manager of our enterprise solution. I’m wondering if you can describe how that solution makes sense of the data that is accumulated over all these steps.
AKB: Yeah. Thanks, Nev. I can certainly do that. So, I guess any mine looking to improve ore yield, they must measure in order to determine success and how often those measurements are taken across various disparate systems, either from Hexagon or other vendors. And so MineEnterprise is a system that provides a single source of truth to manage your drill and blast data. It’s a solution for everyone in that process from supervisors, the engineers, and management, both on and off the mine. So, by bringing together that disparate data, including drill and blast designs and the production actuals, the drilling quality assurance, consumer usage, charging topography, geology, etc., and having that information on one platform that is accessible to everyone. So, unlocking that information that is normally in those disparate systems and really realising the connected ecosystem of solutions that only Hexagon can provide. So, bringing those things together, making them accessible and then on top of that, providing in the web browser, a 3D visualisation of that information so there you can communicate surface topography, the geology that may be running through the area of the drone blast area, and you can visualise that both in 2D and 3D.
And then the second piece to visualisation is all around the reporting, so the ability to quickly run reports or look up information that would be normally manually compiled. A basic example is like an explosive deck and quantity compliance report. Loading the decks from incorrect heights or with incorrect quantities will have large impact on your blast data.
So, to summarise. How does MineEnterprise Blast Control help make sense of the data that you’ve accumulated? Well, it brings all that data together, makes it accessible, allows you to visualise it in 3D and pull out that data when you need it. Essentially, it helps close the loop for reconciliation that will improve transparency across your organisation to enable sites to understand where there are challenges and successes in their drill and blast journey and to improving their ore yield.
NJ: Thank you, Adrian. That’s a great summary, I mean, we’ve touched on blast design, blast monitoring, fragmentation analysis, and now the enterprise element of that feedback loop.
I’m just wondering, Jeff, if we can finish with you, you’re senior consulting manager. What would a customer expect when they’re adopting this integrated approach? How would it work?
JL: Yeah, it’s a great question and like all Hexagon integrated solutions, we understand that it’s not a one size fits all solution. So different mines, especially different mines in different regions around the world have varying pain points. Even if you zoomed into Nevada or Arizona in the United States as an example, you might have two mines within the same company that have different priorities around blast outcomes. One might be more concerned with optimising fragmentation, while another mine just down the road might be primarily concerned with loss induced vibration on a neighbouring town or something like that. So, our approach is consultative in nature. So, we’ll work with the customer to understand their priorities and tailor the solution to fit their mine specific needs.
NJ: Thanks so much, Jeff. I think that’s a good place to wrap up.
Gentlemen, thanks so much for your insight today. A big thank you to our guests, Tom, Seth, Adrian, and Jeff.
For more information about today’s topic, visit hexagonmining.com. Or come and see us at MINExpo at the Las Vegas Convention Centre, September the 13th to the 15th, booth 4057. To listen to additional episodes of Mining Matters, visit hxgnspotlight.com. Thanks for tuning in.