Sanjeev Gandhi, MD and CEO Angus Melbourne, CTO Nick Beaton, Senior Manager IES Technology Troy Powell, Head of Sustainability
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, mining has been one of the pivotal drivers of the global economy. Over the years, mining has come a long way with today’s highly complex technologyaided mining operations. While mining began as a perilous industry where the only technology available to miners were pickaxes, minecarts, and dynamites, today’s miners are a technologically advanced group of individuals who strive to ensure that the planet’s rich natural resources are recovered efficiently, safely, and with least ecological damage.
Today, hi-tech machinery transports materials across the mine with minimal physical hazard to miners and digital solutions streamline mining operations. The increasing use of technology such as robotics, automation, and big data is also dramatically transforming the mining industry. Along the way, mining is becoming much more environmentally sustainable as a result of these technological advancements, with green mining technology progressively gaining popularity as the harbinger of a new revolution in mining.
At the vanguard of this mining revolution is Orica, with its innovative and sustainable mining and infrastructure solutions. Established in 1874 as an explosives supplier to Victorian gold mines in Australia, the multi-billiondollar firm today serves mining, quarrying, oil and gas, and construction companies in over a hundred countries. As Australia’s largest mining equipment, technology, and services (METS) provider, the company has cemented its position as the world’s leading supplier of commercial explosives and blasting equipment as well as sodium cyanide for gold extraction and ground support services for mining and tunnelling operations. Orica’s operations are built on a strong desire to drive sustainable change through innovative technology and quality customer service. “We are deeply committed to advancing our core products and services and progressing new digital and automated technologies to create safer operations and unlock value for our customers across the mining value chain,” says Angus Melbourne, Chief Technology Officer of Orica.
With 148 years of innovation and research experience, Orica has tailored its solutions to the business and technical needs of its mining customers, who benefit from the expertise of Orica’s team of seasoned scientists, engineers, and researchers. “We constantly evaluate technologies that align our offerings with our customers’ increasing demand for sustainable solutions. Our Clean Technology Roadmap puts the spotlight on our investments in decarbonisation, automation, and digitisation,” states Melbourne. This ecocentric approach has enabled Orica—a founding member of the Australian Industry Energy Transition Initiative (Industry ETI)—to strengthen its competitive edge and improve the sustainability of its existing solutions.
Cutting-Edge Digital Solutions for Mining Cycle Enhancement
At the forefront of the drill and blast process for nearly a century and a half, Orica’s innovative technology solutions are pushing the mining industry to new heights with marked improvements in efficiency for their customers. “Innovation is core to Orica’s DNA and customers are at the heart of what we do. By thoroughly understanding their challenges, we deliver better outcomes today and use that experience to develop future technologies,” asserts Melbourne. Orica’s long line of cutting-edge mining technologies stands as a testament to its commitment to delivering customer-focused innovative tech solutions.
Integrating sensor and IoT data with AI-powered data analytics, Orica’s cloud-based digital platforms enable information access and sharing and deliver actionable insights to clients across mining ecosystems, covering the entire mining cycle from geological exploration and blasting to extraction and processing. BlastIQ™, Orica’s cloud-based blast optimisation platform, enhances the efficiency and productivity of mining companies by linking together the conventional three-step manual process involved in blasting via a digital workflow. With the streamlined workflow, digital blast optimisation platform ensures constant information exchange between the blast engineers, the drilling teams, and the explosives loading teams to optimise the hole drilling process by tracking and adjusting for changes in hole conditions in real time.
In a similar vein, Orica’s cloud-based Integrated Extraction Simulator (IES) optimises processing operations in mining.
We constantly evaluate technologies that align our offerings with our customers’ increasing demand for sustainable solutions
IES leverages cloud computing to allow mining companies to configure optimal designs for mineral processing plants via high-resolution simulations of the plants’ everyday operations over their entire life cycle. “Optimisation of processing operations using IES enables step-change reductions in power and water consumption while greatly improving recoveries of marginal ores—all contributing to the future sustainability of mining operations,” says Melbourne.
Delivering Value with Futuristic Technologies Along with the cloud-based platform, Orica’s suite of state-of-theart mining technologies adds immense value to the mining industry in raising productivity and efficiency. 4D™, Orica’s revolutionary bulk explosive system enables real-time customisation of the requisite explosive energy needed for effective blasting by factoring in the variability in geology across the drilled bench. With a wider range of available energies delivered through blends of ammonium nitrate (AN) prills and emulsions-based explosives that can be loaded in both pumped and augered methods, 4D™ heralds a new dimension in blasting with the ability to deliver improved rock fragmentation and bench productivity, along with a significant reduction in drill and blast costs.
Orica’s Design for Outcome solution takes blast design generation to new heights by employing automation, machine learning (ML) algorithms, and cloud-hosted processing to sync rock features with blast energy at high resolutions, enabling customised blast design creation. It allows mining companies to save time and costs through efficient allocation of explosive energy, resulting in consistently higher downstream productivity.
In collaboration with mining equipment manufacturer Epiroc, Orica developed Avatel™, the world’s first mechanised development charging system comprising a self-contained unit designed for lateral development tunnelling applications. Considering the high risk of serious injuries and fatalities in the underground mine development face, the award-winning semi-automated explosives delivery system enables charge operators to prepare and load blast holes from the safety of an enclosed ballistics-proofed cabin.
Enabling Avatel™ is Orica’s latest offering, WebGen™ 200, the world’s first completely wireless blast initiation system for blasting operations in both surface and underground mining. WebGen™ 200 comprises a range of in-hole primers that enable wireless blast initiation via a signal that can penetrate hundreds of meters of air, water, and rock, substantially reducing mining personnel safety concerns by keeping them away from blast sites.
Further contributing to personnel safety is Orica’s automated fragmentation measurement device FRAGTrack™ that removes the need for manual rock sampling in mine sites. The device is equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine vision technologies, allowing real-time capture of fragmentation measurement data. The state-of-theart fragmentation measurement tool enables post-blast measurement and analysis to optimise drill and blast operations and enhance downstream unit productivity and operational performance tracking.
Enhancing post-blast rock mass flow detection further is Orica’s OREPro™ 3D, a software application to accurately determine blast movement. OREPro™ 3D leverages mine data to replicate the movement patterns across the blast volume using sophisticated algorithms and advanced modelling technology. This allows mining companies to proficiently model blast designs, create better blast controls, and improve their downstream operations.
The most recent addition to Orica’s product portfolio is RHINO™ orebody intelligence measurement technology. As a drill string-mounted geophysical sensor equipped with high-fidelity data streaming abilities, RHINO™ measures rock elastic moduli during the drilling process and live-streams it to create high-definition 3D geological models for blast planning, scheduling, and design optimisation.
Enabling Customer-Centric Sustainable Efficiencies
The portfolio of innovative, state-of-the-art mining tech solutions and technical expertise enables Orica to deliver significant value to its clients. Orica implemented FRAGTrack™ to optimise blast operations for the multinational metals, mining and smelting company Boliden’s Kevitsa mineral deposits. FRAGTrack™’s rock fragmentation analysis of blast images assisted Boliden to make informed decisions without depending on mere visual assessments, resulting in significant productivity boosts along with overall operational cost reduction.
In an implementation highlight, Orica fast-tracked Australian iron ore mining company Roy Hill’s Smart Mine Program with Design for Outcome, wherein Orica optimised blast performance with ML algorithms and data analytics.
Coupling Design for Outcome with BlastIQ™, Orica assisted Roy Hill in analysing the blasthole geology and automating the tailored explosives loading process curated to blasthole conditions. This enabled Roy Hill to maintain optimal excavator productivity, expand their drill patterns, reduce drill and blast costs, and boost their mining production and profits.
Innovation is core to Orica’s DNA and customers are at the heart of what we do. By thoroughly understanding their challenges, we deliver better outcomes today and use that experience to develop future technologies
Furthermore, Orica augmented the Avoca mining method deployed at gold mining company Newmont’s Musselwhite Mine by utilising novel mining methods to reduce stope dilution. By leveraging the temporary rib pillars (TRP) method, enabled by the WebGen™ wireless initiation system, Orica ensured the unconsolidated fill or mine waste rock after stope mass blasting was temporarily held back. It was subsequently removed with wireless blasting sequences initiated by the TRPs fitted with WebGen™ primers, resulting in ore isolation. This led to heightened safety for blast operators, increased mining productivity levels and enhanced ore recovery with more than 90 percent reduction in stope dilution.
Apart from technical innovation and expertise that enabled Orica to script such remarkable success stories, they’re also taking great strides to implement sustainable business practices. As part of an ambitious plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, Orica will deploy tertiary catalyst abatement technology, invest in renewable energy, and enhance energy efficiency and industrial processes in a bid to reduce its operational greenhouse gas emissions footprint. Collaborations with suppliers of lower emissions intensity ammonia and AN, and offering lower emissions products and services to enable mining companies to reach their sustainability targets are also underway. “Globally, we have achieved 13 percent emissions reduction since 2019 and are on track to achieve our target of at least 40 percent by 2030 from 2019 levels,” informs Melbourne.
Orica’s Carseland AN manufacturing facility in Canada has recently installed tertiary catalyst abatement technology, which is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 83,000 tCO2e per year. Orica announced in November 2021 it will be deploying the tertiary abatement technology, EnviNOx® for the first time in Australia to reduce emissions by 48 percent at the Kooragang Island nitrates manufacturing plant in Newcastle. “The Kooragang Island Decarbonisation Project marks a critical step in achieving our emissions reduction targets and progress towards our net-zero ambition. We’re committed to working with our stakeholders to forge a pathway to a lower carbon future,” adds Melbourne.
En Route to a Lower-Carbon Tech-Powered Future
Surging ahead on the path to achieve sustainable outcomes, Orica is rapidly expanding its digital capabilities, creating data-rich and AIinfused tools to enable monumental improvements in productivity, safety, and sustainability of mining customers. In recognition of this ability, Glencore, one of the leading globally diversified natural resource companies, recently awarded Orica a fiveyear explosives technology and services contract for its Australian copper and zinc operations.
Along with maintaining its domain expertise in explosives, Orica is striving to transform drilling and blasting methods by leveraging digital and automated technologies. The company recently announced its partnership with Microsoft to leverage Azure as a strategic cloud foundation for its expanding digital products portfolio and strengthening its analytics capabilities. Additionally, Orica has established a Digital Immersion Centre in Brisbane as a specialised facility for promoting mining innovation with AI, data science, and cloud computing.
With a range of novel digital solutions, Orica promises to significantly improve mine planning and designing with its stateof-the-art technologies and in-depth understanding of orebodies and geology, focusing on enabling their customers to fulfil their sustainability goals. Alongside, Orica will offer predictive analytics to assist them in creating a fully integrated, real-time, end-to-end mining digital twin that will provide enhanced visibility into operations across the mining sites. “We will remain steadfast and committed to innovation in the coming years by leveraging technology to reveal functional insights, unleash efficiencies, and identify new pathways to optimise the whole of mine performance,” Melbourne concludes.