Bernie Ridgeway is about to go on another investor road-trip and this time he’s going to try to explain the potential impact on the mineral exploration game, and his company, of truly game-changing geoscience data management technology. Wish him luck with that.

Although if Dave Lawie’s recent experiences in mining boardrooms are any indication, Ridgeway may get the hearing he’s hoping for.

Not so long ago such widgets and gadgets presentations would have played fifth fiddle to talk of revenue and profit growth on the back of the seemingly endless mining boom. Now suppliers are positioning – some would say pining – for the next cyclical upturn. Few are doing it as well as Imdex.

The company’s REFLEX drilling technology business, merged with the acquired ioGlobal about 18 months ago, is working with the Deep Exploration Technology CRC in Australia on next generation drilling and at-rig sample analysis technologies. Another key participant, Australia’s internationally renowned researcher, CSIRO, is genuinely bullish about the DET CRC’s work.

But REFLEX is also working on answers to the main challenge ‘smart’ drill rigs will pose to the industry in future: data management. It’s doing this in enough ways to make your head spin.

Hence Ridgeway’s looming test.

Lawie, geologist, geochemist and former ioGlobal partner, believes the company has a good story to tell – a case seemingly supported by the strong interest of exploration, mining and drilling company boards. “We are talking to resource companies and going into boardrooms to tell them what we’re doing, and we haven’t been thrown out once,” Lawie said. “In fact if we schedule an hour-long meeting we’ve still been there three hours later talking about it. It really excites them because … they all have these pain points, they understand the problems, but no one is talking to them about solutions. They don’t know how to fix it. And when they start to hear this story they see that it could give them lots of productivity improvements, and just remove a lot of roadblocks that exist in their organisations at the moment.”

Lawie sees the data management challenge that exists today for exploration teams, and the one coming on the back of higher levels of automation and full application of modern computing power, as a broad one filled with co-dependent parts.

A large number of companies have over the past decade or so started using portable, in-field sample analysis instruments – typified by the seemingly ubiquitous XRF (X-Ray fluorescence) gun – to speed decision-making on drilling activity and market news-flow transmission. Olympus, a supplier of XRF sampling instruments to the minerals and other industries, is another key player in the DET CRC project.

A working partnership between Olympus and REFLEX has developed into something stronger through the latter‟s exclusive agreement with Olympus to modify the software in its X-ray guns to make it compatible with REFLEX’s (ex ioGlobal) Hub software and technology. Lawie and his
team have also made the sampling instruments simpler to use and more tailored to minerals-sector applications, which basically means they are able to validate sample data at the point of collection with virtually no manual interference.

The REFLEX Hub-compatible tools then shoot the data off automatically to a cloud-server and then to the computer screens of virtually any exploration data analytics centre in the world. The Hub is being used in the same way to retrieve sample data from the Olympus X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis system that is part of the Lab-at-Rig project.

“REFLEX as a company hires downhole survey and core orientation instruments to 80-90% of the world‟s diamond drill rigs, all over the world literally, and has a support network in place that’s able to support whatever drilling is going on anywhere on the planet, which is really a unique
proposition,” Lawie told Mining Journal.

“An Achilles heel of some of these [portable sampling] technologies is that people can export the data they‟re acquiring in many weird and wonderful ways, which can make for a horrendous data management problem. But if we just remove people from that activity completely – and one way is just not giving them any choice about how the data comes off the machine –by doing this the correct data just goes straight to the cloud and then it becomes visible anywhere on the planet.

“That opens up a number of interesting workflows which really help our users.”

Configurable QAQC features also ensure bad readings or machine malfunctions trigger alerts in real-time.

“There is nothing worse than rework, especially when it occurs weeks after data is originally collected, and that‟s how long it can take with manual systems,” Lawie said.

“In everything we do we strive to push the point of data validation back to the point of data acquisition so that there are no problems down the track. You can‟t do the really sexy stuff unless you get that basic data gathering correct. You can‟t automate analytics on data unless the data is organised in the first place, which always come back to validating in the field and getting it right the first time.

“And then the data analytics needs to sit in the one place – you need to have a single point of truth. And then you can apply fancy analytics and information derivation from the raw data, and make it available to whoever needs it, wherever they‟re available, at whatever time. And that‟s
where the cloud environment becomes very important.

“But you need to have all of those components in place.

“The XRF solution we have out there now is the toe in the water, so to speak, but we‟re going to build that fleet up. It‟s getting good acceptance in the market.

“We’re at the start of this process. We want to be ready when the market picks up again, we need to be set and ready to go. We are already seeing a pick up in the market and the recovery, which is expected to be slow, but looks like it has already commenced. “But, like I said, we are getting an extremely positive response now even in the current market.”

Source: Mining Journal
Jul 22, 2014