Benefits and challenges of upgrading exploration to near real-time

With optimism rising in the minerals sector and a steady resurgence of exploration, “the industry knows it needs to work smarter”, Imdex’s James Cleverley tells MM, “and everyone is grappling with the plethora of technology solutions that exist to change the way we work to be more productive”.

The drilling life cycle that is part of mineral exploration includes sample collection and the interpretation of the resulting downhole data to figure out how to proceed next and whether the drilling cycle is to start all over again.

Historically, this cycle is a drawn-out process. Depending on the exploration programme, the cycle could take anywhere from 72 hours to six months, but, in all of these cases, decision-making is still not fast enough and far from the goal of near real-time.

The adoption of the right kind of new, smart technologies can help boost exploration programmes.

The development of drilling technology, for example, means explorers can have a faster turnaround of geoscience data; however, if the data can’t be interpreted at an equally rapid pace, ultimately this won’t assist in the decision-making process.

“Some key challenges in the exploration industry are related to the speed at which data can be actioned and the adoption of new technology to make the process of exploration smarter,” said James Cleverley, who is the global product manager for geosciences at Imdex.

“It’s simply not good enough to wait for months for data, requiring programmes to be operated on rigid plans and decisions to end up being made blind.”

Imdex’s solution for this issue is the recently launched In-Field Geoanalysis, which combines the technology and software needed to have sample preparation, analysis and managed data workflows, and QA/QC and analysis in one complete product.

“The sample preparation equipment has been designed to operate from camps, core yards or the back of a pickup truck. The current assay technology makes use of an Olympus portable XRF that is connected to our IMDEXHUB-IQ cloud-based data brokering system, providing control on data workflows in the field and office,” Cleverley explained.

“That data is not only collected quickly, it is quality data, reliable and you can access it where you need it.

“The solution does not produce the same level of result as a more complete assay from a commercial lab, but with portable XRF data it is about data fit for making the decision you need to.”

In-field solutions like this one will mean the job of a geoscientist might change from “data collector” to “data interpreter”.

In addition, one of the main challenges related to the adoption of any new technology is its implementation within established business systems and workflows.

“This is something that has been well recognised in other industries and will require change management processes in place to maximise the value of the changes being implemented,” Cleverley said.

A recent paper (Decisions and Discovery—Upgrading to “Truth Machine 2.0”), co-authored by Cleverley, among other things explores the consequences of a near real-time workflow relating to regulatory processes, corporate control and social licence to operate.

“In many parts of the world, the current processes of permitting and land clearance for drilling are prescriptive and constrained, but, in this new paradigm, drilling becomes almost an interactive tool of investigation and, thus, we can’t predict with certainty where or if we will continue drilling until we are have finished hole number 1,” it reads.

“On the flip side, these workflows should lead to a lower overall environmental footprint. This trade-off between needing rapid permitting but showing better overall environmental performance should be reflected in an improved social licence to operate, but it needs support from the regulatory organisations.”

The key changes for the minerals industry moving forward will be one where decisions are made quicker, with a need to respond faster to more agile working methods

In the same paper, the authors also discuss how exploration could move from “campaign-based to continuous exploration”, meaning annual budgets and current procurement processes might not be able to keep up with the new speed of operational decision-making.

“The key changes for the minerals industry moving forward will be one where decisions are made quicker, with a need to respond faster to more agile working methods,” Cleverley explained to MM.

“Imdex is leading the way in the development of products that build the business practice required for rapid, near real-time decision-making, with the delivery of all of our tool data through IMDEXHUB-IQ – a real-time connected system that facilitates the presentation of the right information to the decision-maker in a way that enables that decision.

“All of our tools going forward, and some of our more popular mainstay tools now, are connected to IMDEXHUB-IQ. This will bring a digital process to the business of drilling and minerals exploration that reflects the future of the industry.”

In-Field Geoanalysis is Imdex’s first fully connected offering in the growing area of assay-while-drilling solutions that provide automated assay data at the time of drilling.

“This current solution is productive enough to be used in this way, but we see a future of increasing automation in this area,” Cleverley added.

“Look out for more developments in coming years.”


Originally published, Nia Kajastie, 29/06/18, Mining Magazine.

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