Competence. Innovation. Solutions in Mining.

Sudbury Mining Solutions

Commentary

A complete toolkit of solutions

We beat ourselves up in the mining industry for not spending enough money on R&D. Mike MacFarlane of AngloGold Ashanti, for example, tells us that Boeing, big pharma and IBM are spending in the range of seven to 13 per cent of gross revenue on research and development, while the mining industry spends a measly .2 per cent. Can this be true? Are we really the world’s biggest pikers?

Extracting ounces of base and precious metals from tons of ore in surface or near-surface deposits is difficult enough. Doing the same at depths of thousands of metres has to be one of the greatest engineering challenges of them all.

R&D addresses these challenges, but there’s no cookie cutter solution. AngloGold and Rio Tinto, for example, are aggressively pursuing step change aimed at introducing a totally new technology paradigm to underground mining. Inco, sometime ago, embarked on the same lofty goal, but abruptly threw in the towel when senior executives came to the conclusion that it was costing too much and wouldn’t produce the results they hoped for. After all, mining companies need to look to the future, but they also have to generate returns for shareholders. Additionally, technology has to be appropriate for the orebodies we mine. A single technology won’t cut it. We need a toolkit of solutions and, in some cases, as Quadra FNX (now KGHM International) discovered its high-grade, narrow vein Morrison deposit in Sudbury, hand-held drills and slushers are the way to go.

There’s a lot more R&D – or innovation – in the mining industry than the .2 per cent of gross revenue alluded to above. The mining industry lives and breathes innovation. In this issue of Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal, for example, we highlight research on synthetic rope and thin spray-on liner by the Deep Mining Research Consortium. The much lighter synthetic rope, currently used for mooring aircraft carriers, would allow mines to operate at greater depths and hoist more ore (Page 16), while spray-on liner requires one-twentieth the amount of material and offers more tensile strength than shotcrete (Page 19). This isn’t step research, but it has the potential to significantly impact on the feasibility of chasing orebodies at depth.

A lot of innovation, carried out by mining suppliers, never makes it into “official” R&D statistics. Maestro Airflow, for example, has developed a method of capturing real-time air quality and sensor diagnostic information that has mining companies around the world beating down their door (page 10), while Dumas Contracting has come up with new ways to re-rail errant locomotives and safely transport miners in shaft sinking operations (Page 37).

We congratulate AngloGold Ashanti, its COO Mark Cutifani and vice-president Mike MacFarlane – both products of the Sudbury mining camp -for spear-heading step change in the mining industry. It takes a lot of guts. We also take our hats off to those engaged in the equally important task of innovation through incremental change. We need a complete toolkit of solutions to tackle the challenges we face.

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