Miners could significantly increase productivity by using sophisticated sensors, cloud computing and other technologies, an executive piloting a combined use of the technology said in an interview.
DataCloud International Inc. CEO Thor Kallestad is leading a company that aims to increase recoveries of iron ore, metallurgical coal and base metals by delivering high-resolution rock-mass characterization data to clients using sensors on the drilling equipment that measure the vibration properties of rock and analyzing the data collected using existing geoscience algorithms and machine-learning techniques.
"It's basically turnkey," Kallestad said. "These sensors go on the drill, and then companies put these things on there, and we can provide very accurately, in real time, where their strata contact points are."
|DataCloud's technology can produce a 3D visualization of metallurgical coal and waste boundaries using rock mass data from internet-of-things sensors installed on blast hole drills and reconciling that data with preexisting mine data sets. In this visualization, the software filters the data to show the top of a metallurgical coal seam.
While often seen as a more traditional sector of the economy, the mining industry has increasingly been looking to technology in fields such as automation, robotics, teleoperation, augmented reality and other areas to improve safety, lower costs and boost company margins.
"The coal industry needs to make sure that we're looking at the entire value chain, from the mine to the end-use application, and make sure that we're taking advantage of the technologies that are out there to the fullest extent to keep us viable," Dan Connell, Consol Energy Inc.'s vice president of business development and technology, said in a 2018 interview.
Experts at a metals and mining conference earlier this year said there was a "tsunami" of sensing technology enabling robotics and other technology potential in the mining sector, but companies are not necessarily deploying it to its maximum potential. "Smart mining" using new technology is creating a tipping point for mining companies that will soon need a new generation of workers with technological skill sets, Hecla Mining Co. Senior Vice President and COO Lawrence Radford said at the event.
Kallestad said that so far, DataCloud has worked with a large coal miner in British Columbia and several different coal operations in Queensland, Australia. The company started a few years ago with a "free couple of projects to prove that we weren't making stuff up" and is now concluding paid pilot projects and looking to move to full deployment of its sensors at mining operations.
"Without [internet of things or cloud computing technology], what we're doing wouldn't have been possible," Kallestad said. "Five years ago, we couldn't have done it."
While the company's efforts in the coal space so far are focused on Canada and Australia, Kallestad said DataCloud is starting an approach into West Virginia coal markets, a region rich in metallurgical-grade coal.
DataCloud says on its website that studies point to a loss of 16% to 20% of the coal mined in open pit mining operations. Reducing met coal loss by just 3% can result in a savings of $21 million per year at a mine producing 7 million tons per year with a 10x stripping ratio and stripping cost of $10 per ton.
"Coal loss is always a difficult conversation to talk to clients about because nobody wants to really admit they are losing a lot of coal," Kallestad said. "Essentially what we're looking to do is give them a much-higher resolution understanding of where the coal seams are so they can reduce their coal losses when they load explosives and materials."
DataCloud bases the costs of its service on the savings it provides the company. Kallestad said the company targets a charge of about one-fifth of the value they create by reducing the amount of material left in the ground during the mining process.
The company is working on developing the technology to the point that it can stop the drill when it has reached the coal seam to even further decrease coal loss. A company spokesperson said DataCloud is exploring partnerships with software devices so the operator sees a flashing red light to stop the drill. When autonomous drills are installed, they could be automatically stopped, a process known in the oil and gas sector as "geostopping."