Mining companies are rapidly shifting their strategies and operating models to leverage digital transformation in their operations from pit to port, and blasting is one such area. Blasting is an area that can benefit from digitisation and the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) as key drivers that can enable safe, efficient and automated operations.
In mining projects, rock blasting requires a systematic approach that ensures worker safety and enhances the efficiency of an operation, as it can damage infrastructure and cause fatalities to personnel involved. In consideration of this, in current projects, mining companies are shifting from a traditional blasting system, whose shortcomings in terms of safety risks and low efficiency, have been well documented to a centralised blasting system.
A necessity not a fad
The migration from manual blasting methods to a centralised system is a necessity, as the objective of a mining operation is to extract maximum volume of valuable ore at the lowest production cost. And to access this ore, blasting plans are designed and carried out to dislodge the ore from the rocks’ main body. However, manual blasting is carried out without clear understanding of the possible outcome across the blasting workflow.
To emphasise this point, Navin Singh, Director at the Mandela Mining Precinct, points out the limitations of traditional blasting. Chief among these is the increased worker and equipment exposure to potential rock fall hazards. Other concerns include uneven burdens on the face for the next round of blasts, and the over break causing voids within the rock mass thereby reducing the overall effectiveness of the explosives.
The alternative of digital blasting
Due to the aforementioned factors, mining companies are seeking safe and efficient blasting options. New rock blasting technologies that can help in improving the bottom-line are proving very viable.
Furthermore, mining companies are rapidly shifting their strategies and operating models to leverage digital transformation in their operations from pit to port, and blasting is one such area. Singh underlines blasting as an area that can benefit from digitisation and the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) as key drivers that can enable safe, efficient and automated operations.
In digital blasting, software solutions link blast designs directly with geological and geotechnical data, mine plans and field measurements to enhance blast precision. According to Singh, there are massive benefits to be had for mining companies from digital blasting, chiefly from safety and economic perspectives.
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“Digitisation allows the blast design engineer or mine planner to ensure that the blast design is optimised for the respective working by monitoring the correct amount of explosives are used, that the hole length, burden and spacing is monitored and the blast input parameters can be optimised to ensure proper fragmentation and prevent damage to the surrounding rock mass,” he explains, adding that the process does not only reduce the blasting cost but also reduce the consumption of explosives, and less wastage of explosive energy in blasting.
More to the point, the monitoring of misfires during the initiation of the blast has proven beneficial to the traditional techniques, as immediate measures can be taken to rectify the initiation before the re-entry of the workers of the following shift. Ultimately, this eliminates the historically occurrences of misfires and prevents the economic losses of these misfires.
Fit for purpose technology
It is not unusual for a blasting solution from a reliable supplier to fail to perform optimally. As the old adage goes, ‘It is one thing having the right technology, another thing serving the purpose’, Singh recommends that mining organisations should get technology that is fit for purpose. This is because every mine and shaft is unique, and as a result, the infrastructure, shift arrangements and control systems will differ from shaft to shaft.
“A fit-for-all technology approach is likely to be ineffective, as the system would probably not fully comply with the specific requirements needed at each shaft. And so to ensure this does not happen, a proper detailed study needs to be undertaken along the entire process chain, based on the principles of the Theory of Constraints Crush. The theory stipulates that the most appropriate solution be found rather than a point solution that may solve one part of the problem by only displacing the problem at another area,” Singh concludes.