The amount of data that is produced at mine sites has proliferated in recent years, but the question of how to manage that information still looms large.
The problem is that as software applications and connected equipment have multiplied – as essential as they are to efficiency and productivity – they tend to work in isolation from each other.
In order to integrate data from different applications so they can use it more effectively, many of the larger mining companies have resorted to developing their own internal solutions, says Rudy Moctezuma, chief business development officer of software developer Eclipse Mining.
“There hasn’t been a platform that can solve what they’re trying to do, which is integrating data from all these sources so they can use it – they have had to do it themselves,” he explained in an interview with CMJ in November.
“However, mining organizations are not technology companies, so while they can develop some of these solutions to solve a specific problem, it’s really difficult for them to maintain.”
Eclipse Mining was started in 2018 to addresss this issue. In February, the startup launched SourceOne – a vendor-neutral, open platform for the mining industry that integrates, centralizes and organizes data in one location, where it is ready to be consumed and used in analytic solutions like Microsoft PowerBI or Tableau.
“It’s an industry platform which integrates data from different sources of the mine, it organizes and manages the data so the mining organizations can use all the information to make decisions,” Moctezuma says.
Storing and linking data from all areas of the mine – from mine planning to operations, the processing plant, stockpile management and geotechnical data – makes new insights possible.
By having data in near real time, the upper management of the mine can make sure goals are met and, ultimately, improve production. “SourceOne standardizes business process workflows to help them gain better understanding in making these decisions,” Moctezuma says.
The solution, he adds, is a “gamechanger” for the industry, in part, because the functionality enabled by SourceOne is also a pathway to advanced analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence applications.
“In order to use those advanced analytics, you first need to gather information and clean it to understand it. This is not just data storage, it’s context as well that you need. SourceOne was built with analytics and future technology in mind.”
(The platform itself also has analytic capabilities.)
In addition, he says SourceOne would be useful in facilitating the centralization of data needed for the remote operations centres that are becoming more common in the industry.
Importantly, there’s a built-in data validation function to ensure data that’s being transferred is reliable.
“As data’s coming in, we validate it automatically through some workflows that we construct for the client. So they automatically get warnings to check the data (if something is off),” Moctezuma explains.
Eclipse was cofounded in 2018 by chairman Fred Banfield, a mining software pioneer that cofounded Mintec in the 1970s. The creator of the popular MineSight mine planning software, Mintec was acquired by Stockholm-based technology group Hexagon in 2014.
Eclipse’s entire leadership team is from Mintec and spent three years researching and developing SourceOne, including looking at solutions that have worked in other industries, Moctezuma says.
“Even though Eclipse is new, we understand mining and the complex technology that helps drive this industry and the complex processes that are involved in operating a mine.”
One of the biggest features of the SourceOne platform is the ability to facilitate remote work and access to data in a multi-user environment that makes collaboration easier.
“As you can imagine it’s not surprising there’s been a lot of interest of SourceOne during the pandemic – the need to have access to data from any location, be it at home, at the airport, at the office, is critical.”
Ironically, although the solution is exactly what miners need during the pandemic – enabling remote access to all data in real time or near real time – the travel and site access restrictions that are in place because of Covid-19 have slowed down its roll-out since it was launched just before the pandemic in February.
While there will still has to be an onsite presence to implement the technology so Eclipse can understand the business process and the problems the client is trying to solve, the company says it has figured out ways to complete the majority of the process remotely.
Moctezuma says Eclipse has scheduled deployments of the platform, starting in the new year, with a range of major and intermediate companies.
The scoping and implementation process takes four to eight weeks on average, depending on how widely the client wants to implement the platform across their operation. Each subsequent area the company wants to integrate (technical services, the processing plant, etc.), would take another two to four weeks.
At this point, Eclipse is confident its solution is unique in the mining market place.
“Other vendors also promote platforms, but what they are what is called product platforms. The difference is a product platform usually integrates their own products and sometimes some third-party data in a limited way,” Moctezuma says. “These solutions do not share all the data either – inputs, history, etc. – which truly belong to the mining organization and which they also need.”
In contrast, as an industry platform, SourceOne integrates data regardless of the product, vendor or data format, and the client isn’t forced to go all-in with one vendor’s applications.
“We don’t require them to change products – our intent is to work with their existing solutions, minimizing the change management. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible.”
Other commercial databases that weren’t specifically built for mining can’t handle the vast amount of data and data formats generated in mining.
At a basic level, the platform can work with data in any format by importing files directly, whether they are text files, ASCII files, Excel files or something else.
At the highest level, it can enable more advanced, two-way communication between the platform and software applications.
At this level, in addition to the data itself, the history, context and process that went into creating that data, including the user version of the software that created it, is also captured.
For higher level integration, Moctezuma says Eclipse needs to have an agreement with the software vendor. The company has a number of non-disclosure agreements in place with vendors who are interested in integrating with SourceOne, a partnership that would give them more information and better intelligence to build their business.
“They may have APIs currently, but not all the information they need – maybe just tonnes and grade – and not all the context,” Moctezuma notes. “Instead of updating all their development with their APIs (application programming interface) they can just link to SourceOne.”