Know the rock: making sense of data

Steven Putt, mining solutions manager at DataCloud, explains the benefits of knowing rock - making sense of production drilling data and adding seismic while drilling for further enhancements.

 3D visualisations of MWD with DataCloud’s software, MinePortal; left side shows the complexities of MWD data, right side has removed measurements from precondition from blasting, unmaintained sensors, and GPS errors to clearly identify properties of fault and hard zones

3D visualisations of MWD with DataCloud’s software, MinePortal; left side shows the complexities of MWD data, right side has removed measurements from precondition from blasting, unmaintained sensors, and GPS errors to clearly identify properties of fault and hard zones

Today's mining drills are equipped to generate all kinds of data that monitors the performance of the machinery and its parts and to predict maintenance requirements. They "know" all about the machine, but they do not know the rock. Imagine if a mine site could gather the same degree of data and information currently available for drills but about the rock being drilled, without adding an extra step in the workflow. For mine planners, geologists, and drill and blast engineers, extracting more out of their rock starts with extracting more out of their production drill's data. A granular look at the orebody and analytics of the rock itself derived while drilling blast holes is a game-changer.

There is a new tool on the market for mining companies that will transform all that drilling data into geological insights. Making sense of these massive data sets starts with cleaning up your measurement while drilling (MWD) and aggregating other data sets from the mine within software that delivers higher-resolution block models and a single source of truth about the geology of the orebody.

Once cleaned, MWD is available for a variety of geological interpretation techniques like smoothing, kriging, and Gaussian simulation, which make simple sense out of this otherwise overwhelming data.

Processed MWD gives engineers a simple and clear understanding of the geological trends occurring at the rock face. This simplified rock model can be used to optimise drill and blast designs, improve the accuracy of ore and waste boundaries and serve as the key starting point for mine to mill improvements.

However, challenges can arise if certain drills do not have consistent MWD measurements or if MWD does not deliver a high enough resolution. In these cases, seismic while drilling (SWD) may be a better solution.

Seismic while drilling is an alternate method of measuring rock properties while drilling and has several advantages over MWD. SWD systems are modular and independent of existing drilling systems, utilising the latest technology in drilling-based rock measurements. These advantages allow SWD to exponentially increase the accuracy and resolution of blast hole data as the measuring sensors are gathering intel centimetre by centimetre down the blast hole. Increased accuracy and resolution highlights additional rock formation features like faults, fractured zones, and marker bands which can be critical for accurately identifying ore and waste boundaries.

Where did SWD come from?

Knowing the rock was the key to geophysical breakthroughs in the oil and gas industry over the last four decades, yielding massive increases in productivity, production geophysics exploded due to the development of SWD technology. Engineers with expertise in subsurface evaluation joined forces with geologists and cloud architects to found DataCloud, a company that has adapted this technology to the logistical needs of the mining industry.

"Having a great understanding of the rock and a background in subsurface evaluation before developing a better rock recognition system was key to successful implementation in the mining industry," says Daniel Palmer, DataCloud's COO. "Through an easy installation of an IoT sensor on production drills, these blast hole drills are now offering mine planning teams and geologists a high-resolution geological model of their orebody with clear identifications of waste boundaries, fractures, and more. And it's all available prior to blasting and from any smart device."


3D visualisation inside MinePortal; enhanced resolution and contact detection with its SWD sensor, RHINO, data added to the model



Why drill and blast?

Thousands of blast holes are drilled to load explosives for the purpose of extracting money-making material from unwanted waste rock. Why not gather better geology data from this process, without adding extra steps to workflow, to recover more valuable ore?

Production drills touch the mine's orebody more than any surveying or sampling done during exploration. It is the perfect opportunity to gather detailed data about the rock. However, as many who have put data-generating equipment to work in mines can tell you, gathering and managing yet more data can be migraine-inducing.

DataCloud alleviates this headache by providing user-friendly software that can seamlessly aggregate massive datasets, easily integrate with other software platforms, and deliver 3D visualisations of the geology.

Palmer believes that the drill and blast process is the breeding ground to create a step-change. "The most critical process is drill and blast, and a predetermined fragmentation size is a key goal to obtain. This process is under-optimised, so there is massive potential to upgrade and make a big difference in mining efficiency."

Supporting production drills

The DataCloud platform's SWD sensors have successfully logged blast holes on rotary drills, single and multi-pass drills, and down-the-hole hammer drills in many types of rock, ranging from soft coal to granite to iron ore to porphyritic base and precious metals.

The hardware segment to the platform is an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor that sits directly on the drill above the deck. The sensor detects the differences in vibrations made as lithology changes during drilling blast holes.

The software component of the platform transforms these vibrations into high-resolution blast hole measurements, providing more detailed and useful MWD data, and using it to create 3D visualisations of orebodies, and automatic block models. It can also be used to build hardness models and fracture indices from MWD data, allowing planners to design variable blasting based on this information, thereby saving time and money that could have been wasted uselessly drilling where the rock does not warrant it.

DataCloud's new technology has already been adopted by several mining companies with operations around the world, upgrading drilling data and analysis to equip their mine planning teams and geologists with the orebody knowledge needed for operational efficiency. It does so through the use of cloud computing and proprietary algorithms that implement the latest in machine learning and artificial intelligence. With this enhanced knowledge of the rock, mining companies everywhere are making more informed decisions when planning drilling and blasting, optimising the allocation of resources and improving cost-effectiveness.