Nearshore Americas

Chile Insider: Software Makes Mining Operations Safer

Advanced and improvised technologies played important parts in the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground near Copiapo from August 2010 to October 2010. Drilling equipment, customized delivery tubes, smart fabrics and fiber optic cables all played roles in the successful mission. This event shone a light on just how volatile the mining industry is, and the requirement for daily use of specific instruments to mitigate risk, and ensure smooth operations. Fortunately, tragedy was averted when all of the men were successfully extracted from the depths, but could other technologies have been utilized to forecast a possible collapse?

Developing systems that can be used in mining requires knowledge of (among other things) surveying, geology, engineering and of course software development. This is not a task that can be taken up by just anyone, nor should it be. SCRUM and terra remote sensing are two such companies providing very different services to the mining sector out of Chile.

Managing the Process

Created in 2005 by Patricio Rojas, who worked in the mining industry, and Alfredo Gomez, formerly of CORFO, Antofagasta based SCRUM offers a suite of nearly 50 applications that can help with every process of a mining operation, such as office processes, surveys of the terrain, advanced geological studies and perforation. Today SCRUM’s software is used to manage 50% of the copper cathode sold from Chile. Their solutions have also been adopted by companies in Peru and Argentina, and they are looking to expand to other countries. “We want to reach new markets,” said Gomez during our exclusive interview with him, “and work with gold, silver and aluminum operations in Australia and North America.” Gomez added that there have been, “Many difficulties developing the software, and the business. That is why we moved to licensing the different applications, which we are standardizing so that they can be used by many clients and become more marketable.”

In June 2011, the company received an award of distinction by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Chile for its software, Antara that is used for the administration, production, inventory and logistics of copper mining. Upon accepting the award, Rojas said, “For us it is very important that an organization like this recognizes the merits and the quality of our solution. We hope this award will help the world to look more closely at the technological developments taking place in northern Chile.” SCRUM’s current roster of clients include BHP Billiton: Minera Escondida Ltda., XSTRATA: Compania Minera Lomas Bayas, CODELCO: Minera Gaby, Antofagasta Minerals: Minera El Tesoro, Quadra Mining: Minera Franke and Grupo Minera Las Cenizas.

New mines, or expansion projects, need detailed and timely topographical information to accurately cost and plan the engineering and construction phase of the mine

Mapping the Mines

Twenty-five year old terra remote sensing, originated in Canada, has been operating out of the CORFO Technology building in Vina del Mar for three years. The company provided advanced LiDAR technology that creates algorithms to generate a three dimensional topographical image. By tracking distances by firing four to forty laser points per square meter from a helicopter, or airplane the technicians are able to create top-down images of the land. Although they are a commercial company, terra also conducts a significant amount of R&D in remote sensing.

Establishing a Latin American client base six years ago in various industries such as power companies, real estate development and mining, terra attracted the attention of CORFO and was invited by the investment agency to establish an office in Chile. According to David Murphy, LiDAR Supervisor, at the beginning there was a problem with the Chilean team making the same mistakes that the company had already made due to the lack of knowledge with terra’s technology. Murphy was sent to Chile to oversee the operations and to ensure a quality product was being produced.

For the mining industry, terra maps the pits and future areas where the company is considering to mine, along with the terrain for roadwork and expansion. According to terra’s website, “LiDAR combined with orthophotography is an efficient tool to aid mine planning. New mines, or expansion projects, need detailed and timely topographical information to accurately cost and plan the engineering and construction phase of the mine. Terra’s LiDAR can yield relative accuracies on the order of 10cm, which is highly valuable in a mine planning project.” The LiDAR image will also capture detailed images of the pit wall to reveal degradation and potential geohazards. “LiDAR can look at fault lines in a mine from year to year,” explained Murphy. Following mine closure, detailed vegetation mapping can be carried out with a combination of LiDAR and hyperspectral data, which yield detailed physical and chemical characteristics of vegetation allowing for accurate monitoring of mine reclamation programs.

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Power companies such as BC Hydro, Bonnieville Power and Southwest Power are terra’s largest clients, who rely on the company to provide thermal monitoring of power lines to calculate the curves of wires, temperature, frequency of light coming off an object to help them understand the frequency and consumption times of their customers. This technology can also show them where vegetation is encroaching upon a line.

The worldwide mining industry can be made much safer, productive and environmentally sound with the current and developing technologies of firms like SCRUM and terra. This is not only good news, but a matter of life and death.


Kirk Laughlin

Kirk Laughlin is an award-winning editor and subject expert in information technology and offshore BPO/ contact center strategies.

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