If you’re looking for high-tech solutions to boost your mining endeavours, then you’d be smart to look towards Australia. The new HiSeis seismic survey technology that has companies in a buzz was developed at Australia‘s Curtin University, and the country is also home to Blast Movement Technologies (BMT), well established as a go-to company for open pit mining. We caught up with BMT to ask about its new products – products it teased us with the last time we spoke. Ross Hafner, BMT’s Global Sales Manager, gave us the latest.
BMT’s aim to is create revenue and save companies money in their open pit operations by increasing the accuracy of their work. Specifically, when ore is blasted with explosives in order to fragment the rock for digging, the ore moves from the position it was in when exploration took place. This can affect where a company should be digging, and if the movement isn’t accounted for, the company can waste efforts and miss out on ore recovery, and therefore on revenue.
BMT’s solution to this, as it was explained to us the last time we spoke with them, is its Blast Movement Monitoring (BMM) system. This system involves a whole slate of products to allow three-dimensional measurement of blast movement, and their new products will further complement this system. Before we delve into what BMT’s latest development offers, it’s important to explain how the BMM system works: in essence, the system revolves around BMM transmitters that activate when they sense a blast. These blast-proof transmitters are placed throughout a pattern that is going to be blasted, and post-blast, the site is surveyed using detection devices that pick up where the transmitters have moved. These detectors have a high-precision GPS system built into them, and using the data they retrieve, they’re able to map out how far each transmitter moved, and therefore extrapolate and map out the exact effects of the blast. This is calculated by BMT’s software, BMM Explorer.
How worthwhile is this process? Depending on the mine, the average additional ore recovered per blast varies from tens of thousands to millions of dollars. This means that the annual cost of the system is typically recovered in two to three blasts.
This takes us to BMT’s latest development, which has been designed to make the use of these BMMs far more effective: the Flight-Enabled Detector (FED). The FED was first announced in May this year, and was developed in response to feedback that BMT had received about its system. As Ross explained:
“BMT prides itself on engaging directly with our customers to ensure that we remain relevant in our space. Numerous customers expressed concern regarding employees having to walk on the uneven post-blast muckpile, so BMT reacted.” In the interest of safety, many companies quite rightly don’t want to send their personnel onto the post-blast site, just in case there are any undetonated explosives, and even if they know this isn’t the case, because it is an uneven terrain. In fact, many Tier 1 companies have an explicit policy against this, which prohibited them from benefiting from BMT’s technology. So, the FED has been developed to traverse the blast pattern instead.
“The FED brings a semi-autonomous BMM detector product into the marketplace in line with major mining developments and demand trends,” explains Ross. “It also provides a safer work environment.” The FED is a drone that has been equipped with BMT’s special BMM detector. This drone flies a pre-programmed, automated flight path to retrieve the BMM locations, which allows BMMs to be located post-blast without sending personnel out onto the post-blast muckpile. This new technology was first announced at the May Austmine Expo in Brisbane, and has already been extremely well received – especially with those Tier 1 companies that previously couldn’t use BMT’s system. “This solution has won us a major contract with one of the largest mining companies in the world, in a specific commodity that will open a lot of doors for us.”
So, what has changed between May and now? “BMT has conducted numerous site trials as well as development at our research centre to ensure functionality and provide improvements. We are now confident that we have met all specifications.” BMT is focusing on the release of this product before it delves into its new R&D venture, which it plans to commence early next year. In the meantime, FED is the company’s priority – that, and a new 3D visualization tool that’s also in the works. “This product is still in development, but should be ready for release in the next three months. It will provide full 3D visualisation of the moved polygon and can then be used to maximise dig positions and thereby further improving ore recovery.” This software was hinted at the last time we spoke with BMT, but the details were still hush-hush. From the description, this sounds like an essential, game-changing addition to the current BMM System, almost as much as the FED. Whilst the FED tackles all-important questions of safety, this software will take companies’ post-blast results to a new level. With every development, BMT improves upon the use and impact of its product, as well as its smooth application and use.
This system has been designed specifically for open pit mining, so we asked Ross whether BMT has any plans to move into the underground mining sector. “In line with our progressive proactive approach, we are continually exploring technologies that will open up this market for BMT. We have identified a number of potential solutions for underground mining and are in the process of conducting technical de-risking to ensure viability of the solution before progressing it further.”
BMT has grown its operations steadily over the past ten years, but in the last three to four, this has taken off at speed. The change was a new push towards digitisation in mining, and a fresh awareness within the industry of how effective and important solutions like BMT’s are. Mining companies are being more careful with resources and funds, and this means a growing interest in smarter, more efficient mining techniques.
“Digitization is the most effective method to merge multiple data inputs from the operation and then effectively utilize this data to make better and faster decisions to improve all aspects of the operation. The future is definitely in digitization and autonomous and semi-autonomous mining. Although this terminology is overused there is a strong move to autonomous vehicles and our own semi-autonomous flight enabled detector. Drones are being used far more frequently and this is providing copious amounts of data that needs to be rationalized and prioritized.”
Currently, BMT has no high-tech competitors in its sector, and ‘low-tech’ solutions don’t compare in terms of results. Therefore, the further it pushes its BMM solutions, the further it pushes efficient open pit mining. It will be exciting to watch where the company continues to push this technology, and to see how it potentially extends this towards the underground mining space in time. We will keep in touch with the company to see what else it brings to the market and to keep you updated, but if you work in mining and haven’t tried BMT’s products already, watch this space.