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Mood swings in mine planning software

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Australia’s largest software development company, Mincom , is a bit of barometer when it comes to sophisticated mining software trends in Australia.

Around since the 1980s, Mincom has focussed on the mining industry, which in those early days essentially meant helping to optimise maintenance performance.

As Mincom global director, mining programs Gordon Melvin tells Australian Mining, the company back in the early days built its reputation on developing software that was up with, if not a little ahead of what customers perceived as their needs.

“During the 1990s we and our competitors focussed a lot more vigorously on advances in technology to make that software more user friendly,” Melvin says.

Since then Mincom’s foundation mining product, Mincom MineScape automated mine planning and geologic analysis software has, he says, sat off to one side doing the mine planning, and other software packages such as the flagship ERP system, Mincom Ellipse, was developed, with a focus on useability and process management functionality.

By the mid 1990s though, the focus of mining companies began to expand from maintenance performance to one of cost control in production.

Now, Melvin senses a few mining companies are starting to look for software that can tackle mine planning from beginning to end, something to connect to their business planning systems.

“Mincom is now working to bridge this gap in the mine planning process,” he says.

According to Melvin, many mining companies are discovering that they really do not fully understand their production costs.

“For example, a company might order a large quantity of chemicals and knows what comes on site but it doesn’t know where the chemicals go, so they have very little planning control over production costs,” he says.

“In consequence, Mincom is looking to take data out of MineScape and transfer it into a business management system to track production costs.”

Another area Mincom is working on is the better utilisation of existing information.

“Today, process control systems provide an extraordinarily large amount of data on what is happening in the process, the product that is flowing through it and chemicals used. But most companies do not take that detailed information and use it in their business system for reorders and cost analysis.

“So we see that area as a real opportunity for us to marry costs to production and to add real value for our customers,” Melvin says.

This is mine planning on a broader scale than previously understood.

“Mostly mine plans come down to perhaps a three-month plan and in some cases a one month plan; it’s a reasonably broad plan that says a mine will get this much product from these locations – the sort of plans that a Mincom MineScape system currently produces.

“Now we’re refining this by developing software that can look at what a mine is going to do tomorrow and forecast what tomorrow will cost.”

Mincom is hoping to develop this software over the next few months.

Longer-term, Mincom aims to close the loop in MineScape to allow users to see how good their planning assumptions are compared with the real outcomes and costs, and to allow them to adjust these assumptions so next time around they are closer to reality.

There are three Mincom mining products: the technical mining software packages Mincom MineScape and Mincom MineMarket, and the Mincom Ellipse ERP system. As part of its strategy of closing the information gap, Mincom has acquired Chilean software company Exedra and its Aramis software, which provides a link between Mincom’s existing software.

“Aramis manages the selling process and is particularly potent with products like copper concentrate. It handles the whole process of managing and reporting what’s in the concentrate, the contracts, selling, shipping and the invoicing,” Melvin says.

“Aramis comprises one third of the Mincom MineMarket offering, while the other functionality manages laboratory information and tracks the quality and quantity of product as it moves through the mining process.

“Our most recent strategy is to make it possible for smaller mining operations to implement our various systems. One of the reasons the larger companies have taken on our products is because they very configurable and match what the companies want to do; but this also makes it reasonably complex to implement. So we are working on being able to say to some of the smaller operations ‘rather than you sitting around in a room trying to dream up how you might like to configure it, based on our experience here is a standard configuration that can be implemented much faster and, therefore, much more cheaply’.”

Mincom has already done a couple of pilot implementations along these lines.

“We are trying to reach that stage where we can give them the sophistication of the whole software suite without the expense of going through the configuration process. We are also investigating the idea of hosting the system for mining operations, to essentially provide them with a service for a monthly fee.”

Melvin says Mincom has sensed the beginnings of a change in industry expectation and has really got the bit between its teeth.

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