China’s exponential growth has been driving the growth in the resource industry, but the country’s consumption of minerals is slowing. The resource industry is moving from a price driven expansion strategy to a cost driven business approach.
Controlling costs and risks is gaining importance during this cycle of the resource industry. This in effect is resulting in mining companies looking into innovative ways in which it can improve its extraction efficiency – especially in the underground mining sector. There is usually a higher cost involved in underground mining, when compared to surface mining. In order to replace low-cost surface operations, large-scale underground mass-mining methods are gaining importance. Underground mining, however, comes with its own set of technical challenges and uncertainties, as it is not easy to see what you are doing.
“We know that the ore body is there, but the question is, how are we going to extract it in a cost efficient manner and are we extracting the targeted ore body? Leaving ore behind and extracting low-grade material which originates from outside the targeted ore body, can have a massive impact on short-term profits and the mine’s net present value,” Elexon Product Manager Simon Steffen says. “Excessive ingress of low grade material is an important reason for underground mines being shutdown as operations have become uneconomical,” he adds.
The team at Elexon have identified the potential of maximising revenues and the issue of uncertainty, which exists in the sector. They have since been working on solutions to improve extraction predictability and efficiency. Underground extraction in low-cost caving operations is a field where decisions are based mainly on experience and intuition, as the rock mechanics are still not fully understood.
“The data that our solutions provide these mines enables the operators to make decisions based on facts and measurements, while improving and streamlining its processes,” Steffen says. “We are focusing on developing solutions for improving extraction efficiencies and economies which are based on rugged electronic systems that can survive the underground mining environment.”
The team at Elexon’s mission is to provide solutions, which will give the mines the right information at the right time necessary to exercise a large degree of control over the extraction process. The technology solutions Elexon has developed and are currently developing include, the Smart Marker, the Network Smart Marker, 3-D Smart Marker and the Cave Tracker. Over the next 6-months, Elexon is due to release its Networked Smart Marker System. Meanwhile, the Cave Tracker and 3-D Smart Marker System which is undergoing development, is set for release in about two-years. This growing suite of solutions will be highly complementary and will provide measured feedback about the critical areas of cave mining.
The Smart Marker System measures blast efficiency and reveals ore flow post-extraction, while the Networked Smart Marker System focuses on measuring real-time cave development and propagation. The 3-D Smart Marker System will allow for real-time, micro flow tracking, Steffen says, while the Cave Tracker will be able to provide the mine operator with real-time data about macro ore flow in an underground mine.
“These technology solutions are essential to the future of mining to ensure that operations remain feasible,” concludes Steffen.