To help mines deliver optimal blasting that enhances the efficacy of all the downstream processes, AECI Mining Explosives is driving a sensible rollout of digital technologies for the future.
With mining operations seeking to take full advantage of new technologies to react to current and future challenges with the required degree of flexibility, AECI Mining Explosives is embracing the digital revolution of blasting in mining. The company reiterates that immense value, efficiencies and competitiveness can be unlocked by fully harnessing the power of digital tools.
Morne Stiglingh, Executive for Global Support Services at AECI Mining Explosives, says blasting remains one of the most cost-effective forms of rock breaking. He reasons that all mining operations are under immense pressure to deliver optimal blasting that enhances the economics of all downstream operations, and subsequently the mining process at large.
Stiglingh states that blasting has to be accurate to achieve optimal fragmentation, which directly impacts load and haul, the dilution or loss of quality grade material, which needs to be managed to improve handling and processing time.
Armed with a strong research and development function within the organisation, the company’s team of engineers constantly researches the latest technologies and future trends in the mining industry. The department exists to explore cutting edge research while offering field and plant support on all new and existing developed technologies.
Leveraging the company’s digital technologies, he says, miners can expect continuous optimisation and improvement of their blasting processes. AECI Mining Explosives has been exploring a range of technologies to help mines improve their blast planning, initiation and analysis, using a range of digital tools such as Digital Twin, Blast Design, Smart Mobile Manufacturing Units (MMU), Virtual Reality, Automated Supply Chain, Digital Classroom and Plant Automation.
Digital Twin technology is cropping up increasingly in conversations among mining executives. A digital twin is the creation of a virtual, three dimensional (3D) replica of physical assets, structures, equipment or entire mining sites.
“For us, a Digital Twin is a digital duplication of a production facility in a software model. We simulate scenarios guided by measured/actual operational constraints or conditions. This assists us to better understand the impact of changes made to the process,” explains Stiglingh.
Blast Design includes the disparate data generated by multiple design and data capturing software in a single repository. “The objective of Blast Design is to facilitate dissemination and data mining for continuous improvement of field application, operational transparency and business intelligence,” he says.
Maintaining accurate records of blasting activities is important for all blasting operations. The ability to effectively analyse and then communicate this information is critical to the effective management of an operation. BlastHub is a software portal which is a receiving and launching platform for predictive software and links to enable data mining, interrogation and application of methodology. “The vision is to get a closed Performance and Development Review (PDR) loop which links products to performance via the cloud,” explains Stiglingh.
Meanwhile, AECI Mining Explosives’ Smart MMU is a standard production bulk explosives delivery vehicle capable of wireless data communication for production requirements per blast hole, including GPS positioning of blast holes.
“Our autonomous MMU technology, that will be available in the near future, allows for delivery of explosives in hazardous environments through application of computer controlled and propelled delivery system. The autonomous MMU coupled with the patented Smart MMU technology offers advanced loading capabilities to deliver our range of market leading explosives,” he explains.
Another digital technology gaining prominence is Virtual Reality (VR), a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. AECI Mining Explosives, in partnership with the University of Pretoria, have developed a virtual reality centre within the Department of Mining Engineering.
“The centre provides VR training material through instructional design and inclusion of VR and augmented reality components, including consequence training – prototypes of training material chapters and VR examples,” he says.
Speaking of training, the Digital Classroom, which leverages the power of VR, allows for efficient use of training resources to deliver quality training to front-end employees. “Our commitment to remain on the cutting edge of technology is reflected in our IntelliShot® e-learning and VR training which will be rolled out internationally. One of the benefits of VR training is that it can be scaled quickly with the view to improve our customers’ operational efficiencies,” explains Stiglingh.
Apart from technical matters that affect operations on site, customer experience is also an important parameter that deserves digital improvements. With that in mind, AECI Mining Explosives’ Supply Chain focuses on the implementation of a single web-based exchange portal to facilitate Silo Monitoring, Mobile POD Solutions, Transport Management, Real-time Material Flow to enable three-way match of invoice, purchase order and delivery note. It also includes “track and trace” of products on a global scale.
“Our global supply chain network enables AECI Mining Explosives to mobilise quickly and follow our customers anywhere in the world, bringing a focus of localised expertise, agility, compliance, OTIF and ultimately adding value to customer operations,” he adds.
In conclusion, Stiglingh says the current situation creates major challenges for mining companies worldwide – and shows that digitalised production is more important than ever when it comes to operational effectiveness and efficiency of the whole mining value chain from Mine to Port. “This is the only way that both the suppliers and mining companies can react to current and future challenges with the required degree of flexibility. For AECI Mining, digitalisation is an important part of our technology roadmap, and we are excited about what the future holds for us.