In line with the commitment to facilitate customers’ delivery of optimal blasting outcomes that enhance the efficacy of all downstream processes, AECI Mining Explosives is driving the rollout of digital technologies for mining of the future.
Mining operations globally are seeking to take full advantage of new technologies to respond proactively to the industry’s current and future challenges.
Having recognised that flexibility is key to an optimal response, AECI Mining Explosives is deploying an array of innovative solutions to digitally transform blasting.
These offerings have been designed and developed in line with the company’s conviction that enormous value, efficiencies and competitive advantages can be unlocked by fully harnessing the power of digital tools.
Morne Stiglingh, Executive for Global Support Services at AECI Mining, which is comprised of AECI Mining Explosives and AECI Mining Chemicals, notes that blasting remains one of the most cost-effective forms of rock breaking.
At the same time, mining operations generally are under severe cost and other pressures.
Optimal blasting plays an important role in this context in that it enhances the full value chain of the rest of the mining process.
Stiglingh elaborates that accurate blasting achieves optimal fragmentation, which directly impacts load and haul, and has a pivotal effect on managing, handling and processing time.
AECI Mining Explosives has an expert in-house R&D capability.
The company’s team of engineers constantly identifies, researches and assesses the latest technologies available, as well as short- and longer-term trends in the mining industry.
At the same time, the R&D function provides field and plant support for all new and existing developed technologies.
Commenting on one example of this, Stiglingh says:
“Our latest electronics offering gives the customer the ability to locate detonators very accurately by means of GPS positioning, making the blasting process quicker and safer.
“This autonomous tagging method is easy, reliable and requires minimal on-bench training – all of which is value-enhancing for the customer.
“By leveraging our digital technologies,” he explains further, “mining customers can achieve progressive optimisation of their blasting processes.”
Several technologies that help mines improve their blast planning and blast performance have already been deployed widely. Others are more recent additions to the offering and an array of others are in development.
Some examples of digital tools from AECI Mining Explosives include the Digital Twin, Blast Design Software, GPS Positioning, Smart Mobile Manufacturing Units (MMU) and Virtual Reality.
Digital Twin technology is gaining prominence in conversations among mining executives. It refers to the creation of a virtual, three dimensional replica of physical assets, structures, equipment or entire mining sites.
“In our context, the Digital Twin duplicates a production facility in a software models. We simulate scenarios guided by measured/ actual operational constraints or conditions.
“This assists us and our customers to better understand the impact of changes made to the mining process,” explains Stiglingh.
“Our BlastHub is another exciting innovation. It’s a portal that provides predictive software tools to assist with identifying and eliminating inefficiencies in the design process.
“Design tools in the areas of Ring, Tunnelling and Timing provide the customer with an easy-touse interface that helps improve blast effectiveness.
“The vision going forward is to add a closed Performance and Development Review loop to link products to performance via the cloud.
“Our autonomous MMU technology aims to deliver explosives in hazardous environments through application of a computer controlled and propelled delivery system.
“This patented technology will offer smart loading capabilities to deliver explosives intelligently by using GPS positioning,” he explains.
This exciting technological development is expected to be introduced into the markets towards the end of 2021.
Also gaining prominence in the digital space is virtual reality (VR), a simulated experience that approximates real world experiences.
In close partnership, AECI Mining Explosives and the University of Pretoria are developing a suite of VR training tools that will add value to the learning and hands-on experience.
“The VR training material includes instructional design and augmented reality components that contribute to the safe handling of our products. And safety is not negotiable as our top priority,” says Stiglingh.
Also, on the training front, the Digital Classroom leverages the power of VR and results in the efficient use of training resources to deliver quality training.
“Our commitment to remaining on the cutting edge of technology is reflected in the IntelliShot® VR training which will be rolled out to all our operations across the world. This training can be scaled quickly and makes it possible for our customers to test and learn without any consequences.”
In addition to the technical aspects of on-site operations, the customer experience as a whole is as important. With this in mind, AECI Mining Explosives’ Supply Chain function is focused on implementing a single web-based exchange portal that facilitates digital processes by enabling the three-way match of invoice, purchase order and delivery note.
Also included is functionality to track and trace products anywhere in the world.
He concludes by commenting on additional challenges that mining companies globally have had to face through the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is no doubt that the effects of the pandemic on people and business have highlighted even further the role that digitalisation can play in gaining competitive advantage across the value chain in a rapidly changing world.
“In my view, embracing technologies of the future is the only way forward for an industry that must continue to make a positive contribution to society as a whole, and must do so with the required degree of flexibility.”