Coal mines, which are under pressure due to weak prices and rising operating costs, can save millions by making improvements of just one second or 1% to operational efficiency through blasting optimisation.

This is according to Hennie van Niekerk, Regional Manager at explosives and blasting company AEL Mining Services.

“The impact that targeted and controlled energy distribution during blasting has on the final product for mining is immense. Even the slightest improvements add up to significant operational savings over time,” he says.

AEL negotiated a set of KPIs with a major mining house in October 2014. The aim of the KPIs was to identify where blasting could improve processes throughout the mining chain. By implementing a thorough analysis of operations, AEL identified that precision blasting and the correct use of energy has the potential to reduce the full cycle of a dragline by one second or to throw the rock 1 m closer to its destination.

“While these figures sound nominal, operators know that if you multiply these efficiencies throughout the day and across several mines, even the slightest of improvements can optimise man hours and reduce costs significantly,” says Van Niekerk.

He continues that AEL’s data showed that these improvements compounded over five years provides major mining houses the opportunity to generate in excess of  R500 million additional revenue.

Van Niekerk adds that these savings opportunities can be achieved without increasing resources such as labour and equipment but that it is crucial that companies find strategic blasting partners that understand the unique economic and physical environments in which they operate.

“It is about understanding the environment where commodity prices are struggling and margins are tight or even non-existent. We are here to assist our customers to optimise operations so they can get to a low-cost curve,” says Van Niekerk.

In terms of the physical environment, he says operators can determine the specific size of rock they need at the mill and AEL can work backwards through the process and design accordingly to meet the customer’s needs.

“We call this mining optimisation because precision blasting provides value not only on the bench, but to every single stage from mine to mill,” he says.

“Every little bit counts in modern mining. We believe in looking at the finer details in order to build up to the bigger picture by capturing data, providing thorough analysis of needs and outcomes and implementing plans to achieve these results,” Van Niekerk concludes.

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