Passing of mining pioneer Jeffrey Whittle

Whittle Consulting has announced that their founder, Jeff Whittle, died peacefully on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, at the age of 93. Whittle […]
Jeffrey Whittle, AO

Whittle Consulting has announced that their founder, Jeff Whittle, died peacefully on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, at the age of 93.

Whittle became involved in the mining industry in 1979 when he joined Newmont Australia, later, Newcrest, as a contractor. He was fascinated by a largely theoretical paper published in 1965 by IBM researchers Lerchs and Grossmann, entitled, “Optimum Design of Open Pit Mines.” This described an algorithm to maximize cash flow from these mines, working from a block model of ore distribution, mining costs, and pit slope requirements.

There was no commercially available optimization software, so Whittle offered to write a program for Newmont, based on the Lerchs-Grossmann algorithm. When Newmont declined to commit funding to what they considered such a risky project, he decided to write it himself.

In 1983, Jeff took time off from his contracting work to write the first commercially available implementation of the Lerchs-Grossmann algorithm, which was practical to use on the computers of the day. He improved the efficiency of the algorithm by devising an inverted model of block dependencies, which greatly reduced the storage requirements for the whole data structure. This enabled the structure required for real mines to fit in memory, which was often less than 1 Mb, even for mainframes.

This was “Three-D”, which Whittle and his wife Ruth licensed to mining companies as Fortran source code.

In 1984, they established Whittle Programming. Over the next 16 years, he developed a series of mining optimization software packages. These were successfully marketed and sold by his wife to mining companies and consultancies all around the world. In 2000, they sold the business to Gemcom in Canada. This Whittle package of programs remains the industry standard toolkit to this day.

At around the same time, He began work on multi-pit mine scheduling optimization software. His ongoing development of this software resulted in the Prober series of optimisation tools used today by Whittle Consulting.

For almost 40 years, Whittle excelled at developing computer software which revolutionised mine design, strategic mine planning, and most specifically, the ability to optimise the efficiency and net present value of the most complex mining projects. he created the term, “Enterprise Optimization,” which is now common in mining industry parlance.

After making his last contributions to Prober in 2022, Whittle was happy that the ongoing development of his Whittle Consulting proprietary software was secure in the hands of the talented team at Whittle Consulting.

Whittle initially trained as an experimental physicist at the University of Manchester, U.K., gaining a degree with honours in physics. He, his wife and their young family emigrated from England to Australia in 1961. He was a pioneer of the computing age and started programming computers in 1962 while working at Defence Standard Laboratories in Melbourne. He and his wife became naturalised Australians in 1977.

Whittle’s legacy is profound. In the late 1960s, in his work on year 11 and 12 exam data processing, certificate printing, and university place selection at the Monash Computer Centre, Whittle developed a standardized scoring system for the Higher School Certificate (HSC) which made all subjects equally difficult. The current VCE scoring system is an evolution of the system he developed.

In 2018, Whittle was made an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) in recognition of his distinguished service to the information technology sector and the mining industry.

Whittle was a proud and loving husband, father and grandfather. He is survived by Ruth, their six children – Robin, Gerald, Paul, David, Judy, and Matthew – and 12 grandchildren.

The funeral is Feb. 16. Tributes may be sent by clicking here.

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