A two-year collaboration with four of South Africa’s top miners has led to the development of an innovative software solution for mine planning and surveying.
Recognising the need to update the mine planning process so that it was automated, continuous and timely, Bentley teamed up with Cyest Technology and approached miners with an aim to work on a collaborative solution.
Anlgo American Platinum, AngloGold Ashanti, Lonmin, and Royal Bafokeng all took part in the syndicated process and had direct input in the design and definition of the software for use in underground tabular mining.
Bentley said the newly developed MineCycle products which came out of this process, are based on industry proven software foundations to facilitate optioneering.
Bentley’s vice president of simulation and product management Robert Mankowski describes optioneering as finding the optimal solution to any engineering problem.
“The ability to quickly assess operational planning and engineering alternatives was one of the ‘musts’ that our syndicate development sponsors identified,” Mankowski explained.
“It’s about providing software that can help engineers evaluate many different options quickly; so by automating many of the tasks that were done manually, we can save them time and make them more productive in those tasks by giving them the ability to evaluate multiple options.
“This leads to better informed decisions and picking a better solution.”
Bentley says their new range of MineCycle products will enable mining companies to address some of their pain points, including the need for a continuous rather than intermittent mine planning cycle that is automated, helping miners become more agile.
Bentley’s senior product marketing manager Victor Alvarez said mine planning is currently a long and tedious process, and can take months to generate just one plan.
“Despite being immersed in a business environment that is constantly changing – from commodity prices to labour issues and other unexpected events occurring – operators have been burdened with a planning process that is long and tedious and it impairs their ability to respond,” Alvarez said.
This leads to insufficient time to explore alternatives because of the long design and planning process.
To achieve greater planning agility Bentley saw two things that needed to change.
One was the automation of manual steps with rules-based intelligence that allows each step of the planning process to occur more quickly.
Alvarez said the automation is not just to eliminate manual tedium involved in planning, it also encapsulates industry best standards and practices for each of the steps required to create a mine plan.
The second change was that sequential flow needed to be consolidated into a single environment that provides a consolidated dynamic planning capability where design, resource evaluation, and scheduling can occur simultaneously.
With this in mind, MineCycle Designer allows mine planners to configure 3D intelligent mining objects that know how to behave against other objects and the geology of a mine site.
“The stope for example becomes an object that relates to other objects in the mine – when you bring in this new survey and or geology data the design automatically adapts and adjusts to the new information,” Alvarez explained.
This means the plan is live and auto-adjusts based on how the mine is designed, so when things change the mine plan changes with it.
Cyest Technology managing director Gary Lane explained that planners will no longer have to click on every single line to shorten them when the geology moves by one metre as the software automates this process.
The software also creates a rules-based template that governs the scheduling of the mine plan.
“We represent the actual mining sequence logic in a template and then we’re propagating that template across the entire mine – so you’re auto-generating all the scheduling activity,” Lane told Australian Mining.
“You push a button and have a production schedule which in the past would take the guys sometimes weeks and weeks- now we’re talking seconds.”
Crew allocation and tracking are also part of the scheduling software, allowing miners to see what crew they will need, where they need to go, and what work is required to execute the mine plan.
Lane said the software will revolutionise mine planning.
“We’ve had people in the collaboration groups stand up and do a Mexican wave – that’s how profound it has been when they saw what the software can do,” he said told Australian Mining.
Designed to work separately or in conjunction with MineCycle Designer, MineCycle Survey is a single application that uses the same software and tools to complete all survey and survey data intelligence.
MineCycle Survey can be used in both underground and surface mines and uses information direct from survey equipment to generate 3D models of the mine.
Alvarez said this gives companies the real-time ability to analyse the as-mined and as-planned aspects of their site.
With the ability to survey stockpile volumes, pegs, offsets, progressive open cut surveys and notes, the software can take data from a variety of sensors, instruments, file formats, laser scanners and point clouds and combine the diverse data into one survey without time-consuming conversions.
With faster production of survey intelligence, Bentley said the planning process, accelerated with MineCycle Designer, can leverage more up-to-date survey information and create higher quality plans.
Another benefit is the ability to create a 3D spatial view of the ore body, further enhancing scheduling options.
“Now the mine designer is able to see on the fly how many ounces of platinum or grams of gold is being mined and is able to create alternatives as required,” Lane explained.
With all this information in one system so crucial to differing workers across the site, Bentley said it was important to create an open architecture where the data is accessible the rest of the enterprise.
Lane says the software gives miners the ability to generate a mine plan more quickly, meaning multiple mine plans can be produced to test different strategic alternatives and respond to changes in any external global conditions.
“It creates more time for businesses,” Lane said.
“We’re going to give people more time to think through the plan and more time to analyse. It’s revolutionised how you do mine scheduling.”
A collaborative approach
The new software is being installed at mine sites across South Africa, with its implementation expected in the early stages of next year.
While the proof of its success will depend on the creation of the first mine plan using the system, what is apparent is the success of the syndicated development process.
The program took place over 100 weeks with testing and conducted every month to ensure the software met the companies’ requirements.
Mankowski said the program de-risked the development process both for Bentley and the miners involved.
“The collaboration provided us with the opportunity to validate that our innovations and solutions were going to meet their needs,” Mankowski told Australian Mining.
“We knew we were taking a very iterative approach to the problem. We met with them frequently, talked to them about their issues, about specifications for the solution, and then as soon as we had software to show we were able to demonstrate that to them and get their feedback through the entire process.
“It really helped us minimise the risk associated with the development and de-risks it for them miners as well.”
Devlin Anderson, section surveyor at Anglo American Platinum, said the software is set to “push the boundaries of our current way of doing business in the 21st century”.
“We have collectively given input regarding our various operating requirements in our fields to Bentley and Cyest over the last two years,” Anderson explained.
“This information has driven them to produce a product that not only looks and functions as we intended but has exceeded our expectations.”
Meanwhile, MRM and MES senior manager at Lonmin Ren van Zyl said he is looking forward to a configurable, open, and integrated system that allows users to have one point of contact in terms of software that will give them all the functionality they require to perform their work.
“We eagerly anticipate the successful launch and implementation of these products that are simple to use and fit for business purpose,” van Zyl said.
While the current MineCycle Designer software can only be used in the niche South African underground tabular environment, Bentley and Cyest are looking to find companies to team up with to develop similar software for use in open cut mines.
While no names were given, Bentley said there has been a great deal of interest shown by mining companies for a possible collaboration process starting next year.
“It’s all about increasing production through improved efficiency while reducing cost,” Bentley’s solution executive Dave Body told Australian Mining.
“The mining majors are now looking for innovative technology that can deliver on that promise.”
Vicky V was a guest of Bentley at it's recent Year in Infrastructure conference.