As demand once again returns to mining driving a resurgence in activity, the sector now finds itself operating against a backdrop of declining ore grades, a stronger focus on safety and the need for increased productivity. In this new environment, previous operational paradigms are becoming less appropriate resulting in a strong interest in exploring new operating models.
With technology driving rapid changes in other parts of the economy, the conversation in mining has naturally shifted to bringing a culture of innovation to the sector to address some of these issues. But what is innovation, and is there a process for implementation? If research can be thought of as the process of turning ‘money into ideas’, then innovation is the process of turning ‘ideas into money’. As it turns out, there are many innovation processes, but finding and applying the right one is the key to delivering breakthrough thinking.
By way of example, when done properly, blasting can be the cheapest and most energy efficient form of rock breaking available to the modern mine. Complex blast profiles can be constructed to maximise blast performance and therefore commercial gain, through the use of sophisticated software packages. But, like all analytical tools, the outcome is directly impacted by the quality of input data. Identifying and developing new methods to improve and potentially automate the collection of data ‘on the bench’ through innovative techniques offers an opportunity for significant efficiencies and improved safety.
To add some perspective to the challenge, it is variously reckoned that around 200,000 blast holes are drilled worldwide each day. Once drilled, data on each hole including location, diameter, depth, etc. are captured in the drill log as input to the blast plan.
Currently much of this data is collected manually, often using paper-based systems and sometimes more than once before the blast plan is finally executed. All of this adds up to data reliability issues, and from a safety perspective, more time spent by personnel on the bench putting operators in harm’s way.
Imdex, a global mining technology company, develops products to improve the processes of drilling and for collecting sub- surface data. Having already developed a number of survey sensors and paperless reporting systems for use in exploration, they were well placed to improve and automate data collection on the bench. As they looked at addressing this challenge, they turned to innovation to develop new ideas around ‘digitising the bench’.
Starting the Journey
Having identified the challenge, where can a company like Imdex start the innovation journey? Before answering that question, it is first useful to think of the journey as a series of ‘horizons’, each representing a more advanced step away from current practice.
This provides a useful methodology for classifying the solutions developed in response to a challenge. It also provides a form of technical roadmap that can be used to commercially structure entry of the solution into the market.
Horizons are a useful mechanism to filter and prioritise individual concepts
Facilitated innovation at Imdex
Which innovation process is right?
The structured innovation process
Innovating with Imdex
The Hydrix team helped us to structure and explore the problem in a systematic way, and we saw great value in the process
Chief Technologist, Mining – Imdex