Five years ago numerous disparate mining software systems were in place, and people used specialised packages to do mine planning, geological analysis, and production scheduling, but there was no real time coordination of data. This has changed.

“The information managers were viewing on their spreadsheets was two to three weeks out of date,” Gemcom Africa sales director, David Osborn says. “Collecting data was not always the problem; the problem was integrating the different software systems, synchronising this data in real time.

David Osborn

Africa sales director,
David Osborn.

“Africa suffers acutely from the global skills shortage, and a lot of junior to mid-level mines are embracing technology to be more effective. Having fewer people, these companies seek automated dataflow processing. Having such a system means if the chief geologist moves on whoever takes over can easily access and understand the data."

De Beers’ Finsch mine, a block cave diamond mine in South Africa, is one of the most advanced examples of workflow integration at a major mine. Finsch integrated all its software and data systems to operate in real time, and the payback was dramatic and immediate. It discovered it did not need to invest in a new mill worth several million dollars.

Finsch selected Gemcom and Sandvik to build its block cave mining framework and in the process it became the world’s first automated, trackless mine requiring no operators on its production trucks. The mining framework consists of an automated ore-transport system supplied by Sandvik, integrated with Gemcom PCBC software and its Cave Management System (CMS) module designed for planning and scheduling block cave operations.

The mine sought a system it could manage in real-time from its operations control room on the surface. The implementation of PCBC at the mine assimilates seamlessly with Sandvik’s AutoMine system, the CMS, Gemcom GEMS mine planning software and Microsoft Structured Query Language (SQL) server database systems. The fusion of the SQL server with the operational systems allows the work teams to contribute, extract and share mining information from within the secure platforms they are used to.

The integration across various departments makes training new staff and auditing easier. It cuts out many spreadsheets and the possibility of miscommunication.

Operators

Operators at Finsch monitor
automated unmanned trackless
vehicles underground.

Thanks to the integration, the PCBC software reconciles the daily draw orders with actual ore extracted from each draw point, feeds that data to the CMS and also provides a detailed series of reports on the resource itself. Someone can tell PCBC to produce 10 or 20 tonnes, and the software will display how many diamonds Finsch can expect. Using that information, it can constantly compare with what it is getting to assess the quality of Finsch’s resource estimation.

The Jwaneng and Orapa diamond mines in Botswana are undergoing a similar exercise, Jwaneng with Gemcom’s mine performance management solution, Gemcom InSite, and Orapa with Gemcom GEMS, a SQL-server-based geology and mine planning system. Another company that has migrated to integrate its mining software systems is Mauritanian iron ore producer SNIM. In such cases one sees about 20 databases and three separate programmes integrated. “Once the system is established and set up it becomes easy to work off it,” Osborn says.

“The integration does not require any major learning curve. It is more a change of mindset, which people must embrace, where they interact with different groups in real time,” Osborn says.

“In some cases the payback for this software integration in real time is immediate and in others the benefit can have a three to six month payback.”

Management can monitor open pit and underground tonnages as these enter the plant and can react much faster to changes in grades and output. It has closed the loop and given management much more control over the operation than ever before.

Gemcom is looking at over 500 mining operations in Africa which are adopting and looking to adopt such systems.