Published on: 10/21/2008 11:13:28 AM Print | Font Sizes:  Normal Text Large Text

MIRARCO’s software on the way


By: Nick Stewart

The first major commercial software to emerge from Sudbury’s Mining Innovation, Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation (MIRARCO) is soon set to make a splash among mine planners across the globe.

Having wrapped up a distribution deal with Australia-based GijimaAst earlier this year, MIRARCO will see its Schedule Optimization Tool (SOT) commercially available by the end of 2008.

“There are few software tools in mining that use the benefits of new technologies,” says Andrew Dasys, vice-president of Mirarco.

“This is a good example in that it can run through a huge number of possible scenarios in very little time.”

Having spent three years in development under the Engineering Exploration Visualization and Optimization (E2VO) umbrella, the software does much of the grinding guesswork and calculation involved in manually developing mine scheduling options.

The program uses a system known as genetic algorithms to assemble its schedules, searching for various elements between data sets.

This offers a range of advantages, bringing the length of the process from weeks and sometimes months to a fraction of the time. Research associate Bryan Maybee says that with 1,500 activities, the rough equivalent of a short-term mine life, one schedule can be generated every 20 seconds.

As such, SOT can represent different things to different people, he says.

Its usefulness can also be brought down to the direct mine level to better determine the proper scheduling of equipment and personnel.

It can also be used on an a broader operations level to help identify and narrow the level of risk inherent in a project to make it more attractive to investors. For instance, rather than having a potentially high-value project with 100 per cent uncertainty, the tool can help identify a slightly lower-value project but one that also reduces the uncertainty to 10 per cent.

The tool also represents a major advantage on the personnel side, particularly at a time where a premium is placed upon the proper use of skilled staff, Dasys says.

Rather than spending their time hashing out optimal scheduling opportunities, mine planning personnel can instead spend their time doing more in-depth work.

“If you’ve got someone with 10 years of experience, you don’t want them working through the minutia,” he says. “You want them handling higher-level thinking.”

This level of industry interest and need first sparked the creation of the software and helped to foster its development. This interest has continued as the product moved forward, with various unidentified partners in the mining industry now making use of the beta version of the software.

While the tool itself is no more visually exciting than a spreadsheet, the results can be viewed in a variety of visual modes through ParaviewGeo, another tool under development within E2VO.

Developed through a completely separate team, this software is being made available for free at paraviewgeo.mirarco.org, and at a size of 40 megabytes, is easily managed by nearly any type of Internet connection. Traditionally, similar software has been both proprietary and therefore costly.

This tool is being created locally through the sanctioned modification of Paraview, an open-source data set visualization software created by Kitware, a software firm in upstate New York. However, its abilities extend far beyond its use as a visualization tool for SOT, as it can handle a number of different types of complex data sets.

The goal, Dasys says, is to bring visual computing tools to the mining industry, which traditionally has been slow to embrace this type of technology.

“Mining software is a bit like religion in that people never want to change what they have.”

Ultimately, Dasys hopes to make the tool available through universities, where student creativity will be able to further expand its usefulness. In so doing, these up-and-coming learners will be able to bring their understanding of visual tools to the next level of the industry and help push this particular sector as they go.

Regardless of these and other projects taking place under E2VO, including a drillhole placement software project, Dasys insists they’re not re-inventing the wheel. Instead, they’re simply pulling together various elements of existing technologies. The difference, he says, is in combining them in ways that have never been used in the mining industry.

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