Source: Mining Journal
Date:  12 Aug 2014 5:25pm GMT

Author:  Richard Roberts

One of the prominent CSIRO scientists working on the internationally acclaimed Lab-at-Rig project in Australia has taken a key role with REFLEX Instruments, a company investing heavily in advanced exploration drilling technologies.

REFLEX, part of Australian Securities Exchange-listed Imdex Ltd, this week announced the appointment of James Cleverley as principal geochemist. Cleverley, formerly CSIRO principal geochemist and stream leader of the organisation’s mineral systems and targeting program, has worked closely in recent times with REFLEX personnel on development of the so-called exploration drill rig of the future.

He worked with the Australian government and industry funded Deep Exploration Technologies Co-operative Research Centre (DET CRC) from its inception in 2010.

REFLEX and several other companies are closely connected with the DET CRC’s headline project focused on development of next-generation drilling and at-rig sample analysis technologies. But REFLEX is also working on answers to the main challenge ‘smart’ drill rigs will pose to the industry in future: data management.

Cleverley says REFLEX, a leader in instrumentation, data acquisition and analysis, is driving the minerals industry to relook at current drilling processes and work flows through its partnerships with portable XRF leader Olympus, and CSIRO, and extension of its web and cloud-based REFLEX Hub data management capabilities.

“The opportunity to work with a world class team and be well positioned to provide fundamental training to a new generation of geoscientists is what attracted me to REFLEX,” Cleverley said. “I have always wanted to have an impact in the minerals industry, putting R&D to good use in changing the business. Now more than ever the minerals industry needs change, support in the business and the flow-on to productivity.

“As REFLEX positions itself as a business across the end-to-end solutions for drilling to mining it has become an exciting opportunity for me to bring my thinking and experience to the place where it will see a direct impact – supporting the minerals industry to make better decisions, faster with cutting edge technology and data solutions. It’s the right time for me to move.”

Cleverley said as drill rigs morphed into technology platforms with the help of technologies such as the REFLEX Connect/Hub combination of analytical sensors, portable XRF, and remote data management, geologists would become part of a workflow solution that integrated data collection and decision making from anywhere in the world.

“The solutions are here now,” he said.

Cleverley is aware of industry debate about whether new technologies are speeding the loss of core geoscience skills, but denies there is a problem.

“At times like this there are always arguments about traditional field skills versus new technology,” he said. “The reality is that the minerals industry needs to achieve the productivity increase it desires. New technology should be providing information support to the geologist, freeing them to make objective decisions based on new data and their experiences. For instance Lab-at-Rig for diamond drilling will not replace all core assaying but you will certainly not have to assay all the core. Likewise REFLEX Connect will not replace the need for field mapping, but will provide objective support to the geologist about what rock they are really looking at.”

Vital new skills would be developed.

“This is going to be critical and the minerals industry will need to pay attention to current trends carefully in managing its workforce skills,” Cleverley said.

“The geoscientist is going to have to work seamlessly with the technology, data and traditional skills, and as this new breed of data gets utilised more and more across the business units, communication of ideas between disciplines will also be critical.

“Maybe we should be teaching multi-crew resource management like they do in the aviation industry. The data solutions will allow seamless delivery of information across the mining lifecycle, but this way of working will be a change for the workforce and the business.”

Cleverley’s passion for developing new technologies to help in the characterisation and delineation of ore systems was ignited during his post-doctoral research in Australia’s Predictive Mineral Discovery CRC. His background is in academic research, “but always with a strong application focus”, and in the years since gaining his masters and PhD he has worked closely with copper, copper-gold, lead-zinc and uranium exploration and mining companies.

“I have been lucky enough to work on some of Australia’s best ore deposits, getting inside the business and really understanding the day-to-day challenges facing the operations, in turn helping to bring practical solutions and training to solve the challenges. I have also worked in a wide range of research disciplines from data analytics, computational geosciences to x-ray technologies and ore deposit thinking.”

Becoming a recognised authority in portable XRF and advanced x-ray techniques, it was Cleverley’s expertise in drilling and sensor technologies that led to the inception of the Lab-at-Rig project, a collaborative initiative between REFLEX, Olympus, CSIRO and the DET CRC.

“The work that is happening in centres like the Deep Exploration Technologies CRC is gaining a lot of airtime globally,” he said. “People are hungry for information and to know what the Aussies are up to.

“For a country that exports as much mining services as gold these types of initiatives, at this time, are critical and the Australian METS sector is well placed to benefit from the innovation that will flow in the next few years. Given what is happening in Perth maybe we will be looking at the Silicon Valley of the METS sector soon.”