Angus Melbourne, Chief Commercial and Technology Officer at Orica, spoke about the future of blasting, the innovation and automation changes happening at Orica at this year’s Austmine 2019 Conference.
Orica is at the forefront of technology. Can you tell us a bit more about that concept?
The convergence of today’s digital and autonomous technologies is allowing mines to think differently, mine differently and operate far more efficiently but, most importantly, remove people from harm’s way.
Orica has a vision for transforming the way a drill & blast through digital and autonomous Technologies can deliver value for customers.
Orica has been investing for a long time, over 140 years of innovation experience in improving blasting including through the downcycle and that positions us very well today to deliver on those promises of digital and automated technologies.
Now we think about it in 3 pillars, the first is in advance blasting systems where we leverage, and build on, that experience and capability in our blasting systems.
The second is in digitally-enabled better blasting and this is using the convergence of digital Technologies in particularly AI, machine learning, edge computing to be able to digitise workflows in what today has been a largely manual exercise
and then building on that capability to then deliver Insights around inputs and outputs around blasting to do better and more precise blasting.
Finally, we think about autonomous blasting so once you’ve digitised the blasting operations then moving to more Autonomous Technologies to get people out of harm’s way, to find ore, where you couldn’t previously go, is the way of the future.
We’re really proud at Orica to be leading advances in digital & automotive blasting.
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Can you tell us what it means to cross the smart blast frontier?
Our Industry’s been reimagined and digitally integrated workflows in the mining space is going to change the way we all work now. Some said the industry is a technology laggard but in fact, there’s been a lot of progress made to date that we should celebrate.
There’s a huge opportunity before us to lead further industrial innovation. Now with blasting specifically we know that are poorly executed blasting can impact up to 80% of the downstream costs in a mine and today those processes are largely manual and often uninformed we think using a sensors and measurements to understand the geology and the resource before blasting bringing that information to do better blast designs and then executing more effectively with digital workflows on the bench
poorly executed blasting can impact up to 80% of the downstream costs in a mine
Then most importantly measuring and quantifying the outcomes of blasting means that we can do much better in optimising a blast outcomes
As far as automation goes automating blasting processes which are largely manual today is difficult as there is lots of wires and there are many intricacies in complexities involved in the blast.
We think wireless initiation systems, completely wireless meaning ‘no wires’ greatly enhances the opportunity to automate blasting processes.
Last year Orica introduced WebJen the industry’s first wireless initiation system and we’ve now done more than 130 blasts around the world across four industry segments and the technology is beginning to pick up momentum and we believe this will be a game-changer for the industry.
How do you believe connectivity will change the way miner’s operate?
Well in the future integrated information flows across the mining value stream will make a significant change to how mine is operated today
Much of the operations are compartmentalised and little information and Insights flow between the segments in the value chain which makes for a manual and a non-optimised process
Often the insights needed to optimise our workflows in mining are needed in real-time and the delays mean that we can’t mine better and in the case of blasting…blast better.
If we’re not able to leverage insights so the connectivity on the mine site will allow measurements to be obtained and real-time, processed in real-time and more importantly quantify some of the impacts are better happening downstream.
Now many people know Orica as blasting and our focus on technology development in the blasting space and explosives and initiation systems but in fact, Orica has spent significant resources investing in digital technologies and we do this through four investment Theses.
The first is around understanding the resource to investing in technologies that can better understand the geological conditions, the geochemistry and the Geomechanical information in the resource
The second is then leveraging that information and taking it to better blast designs. Orica pioneered, over many years, highly sophisticated blast models but they’re only as good as the geological information that they match to.
The third thesis is digitising ‘on bench’ operations. What is largely a manual process today in the future will digitise workflows for quality control and ensure that we can semi-automated, then finally automate the delivery of explosives of explosive systems on the bench.
Finally and most importantly measuring what goes on post-blast so monitoring and measurements with IoT devices that provide accurate and real-time information which allows optimising the next blast and the next blast and the next blast.
How important is it to be a pioneer in this industry and what are the challenges in leading the way?
Orica is the leading supplier of blasting solutions to the civil space. We’ve been in the blasting business for 140 years and we’ve been responsible for most of the advances in Civil Blasting Technologies some of which are bulk ammonia nitrate, the use of emulsions, the development of electronic blasting systems and of course the latest at Cutting Edge wireless Technologies
As an industry leader, we need to lead and I think that innovation is in our DNA. One important element of being a pioneer and an industry leader and an element that often overlooked when talking about technology particularly in a narrative around an AI-driven an automated world is that people make technology happen.
Orica has pioneering people are and a spirit of innovation that has delivered much of those Innovations over the last 60 years
In terms of the challenges, I think as an industry, miners, METS players and the communities where we work need to work together to a higher level of collaboration.
The industry has been traditionally siloed there’s been a posture of supplier and customer which often gets in the way of a free and open innovation
The Innovations of the future will require the sharing of data, the integration of systems to allow those insights to flow across mining systems and I think this is one of the challenges the industry needs to undertake.
We need to renew our brand as a forward-thinking innovative and sustainable industry if we’re going to attract the next generation of innovators.
I think part of that Innovation adoption is also taking more risk to introduce technology
The industry is well known for wanting to be first to be second and to derisk much of the Innovation.
The clock speeds of today’s Innovation technology are too fast for that approach. So we need the industry to embrace and take more risk around adopting and applying new technologies and Innovations.
Questions for this future of blasting interview were supplied by Austmine
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