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Aug 2018 - Northern Star Auto

Northern Star Leading the Charge into Automation

At the Adobe Symposium Conference in Sydney on 15 August 2018, Adobe included its latest product, namely Adobe Sensei that uses a blue dot and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to result in mind-blowing advances in terms of graphics and marketing capabilities. Although AI, robots, innovation, and automation are all advancing at an accelerated pace, it was stated that only 9% of the top ASX companies were embracing automation.

At the Adobe Symposium Conference in Sydney on 15 August 2018, Adobe included its latest product, namely Adobe Sensei that uses a blue dot and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to result in mind-blowing advances in terms of graphics and marketing capabilities. Although AI, robots, innovation, and automation are all advancing at an accelerated pace, it was stated that only 9% of the top ASX companies were embracing automation.

Quite clearly Northern Star (NST) has to be amongst the leaders, as they showed ~10 applications that they are using in automation and innovation in their strategy day and subsequent site visit by ~42 visitors in ~14 vehicles (each vehicle additionally had a NST driver and NST senior staff member) to Jundee ahead of Diggers n Dealers in early August 2018.

NST’s Jundee site visit was the most impressive organized large-size group mine visit ERA has ever been on, and it was underground too ! With small groups each capable of seeing and experiencing the detail, and able to ask individual questions even of the operators instead of the usual rugby scrum and poor capabilities to hear what is being said/presented. Possibly un-noticed by the visitors was the dramatic simplification in gearing up, as in no belts: the self- rescuer was in a shoulder bag and the cap-lamps were flat square-shaped LED good quality two-beam (better than some of the other cordless ones I have used – as was commented, cordless cap-lamps are advancing and improving all the time).

In the strategy presentation NST showed that over the past 7 years since 2011, it has created its own internal automation/innovation/contracting group called NSMS that has streamlined its 5 acquisitions, enabling the movement of equipment between sites and in 2017 identified the benefits that could be achieved from replacing the underground mining contractor at EKJV (Kundana). At EKJV ~290 people were signed over on 1 July 2017, and within 12 months, contracting costs reduced by $5m plus $18m in proposed variations, ie a reduction of $74/oz at EKJV plus culture, safety, quality and productivity improvements. NSMS has enabled the rapid transition of the (faster than expected) recent South Kalgoorlie acquisition into NST.

NSMS now has ~520 employees and is behind the training and upskilling of apprentices, graduate training and employment. NST are one company filling the training void left by those old Australian mining houses of WMC, CRA etc, but are also increasingly employing women such that in the future people could say (as now for WMC, CRA etc), they worked at NST- and it would mean something. At a recent AMEC/Resource lunch in Sydney it was commented that the (mining) industry is not doing enough to promote mining and hence the fall in graduate mining and geology registrations, but NST is clearly doing its part in graduate and apprentice training, and including women as part of it.

At the strategy day, NST showed the first automated liner handler (background of the figure) for replacing the liners inside mills and being used at Kanowna Belle, which has resulted in a 30% improvement in reline time, a 12-month payback and significantly improved safety systems. At Jundee, it was also shown that NST was replacing its steel mill liners with synthetic ones that last longer.

Before the trip underground (and also one of the stops underground) was a live remote operation of a bogger from an office on surface. Yes, I know that has been around for ages. However, now you can use a mouse to draw in an imaginary wall so the bogger in the example turned left because it thought there was a wall there, instead of continuing down the drive (as in no bund wall requirement), and the colours on either side of the front and back camera screens in the “MineGem” software package showed if the sidewalls were too close to the bogger, etc. The operator remote bogs in the stope and the bogger travels autonomously between the stope and stockpile in 2nd gear, applying multiple sensors to reduce accidental vehicle damage.
Of the automations shown underground at Jundee, what impressed ERA the most was the stope drilling. Now you basically have an iPad amongst the control sticks and a box on the side of the drill as shown in the figure. The “Minnovare” software system utilizes a single sensor for azimuth direction and dip, resulting in increased accuracy at the collar, reduced dilution, accurate positioning, the correct burden, improved fragmentation, higher ore recovery, reduced reliance on survey mark-up, and using digital plans. It was shown that over an almost 60day period, cumulative drill metres had increased by ~17%, and there had been a ~75% decrease in drillhole deviation.

NST also had an automated drilling jumbo as shown in the figure and also with an iPad amongst the controls. The iSure system increased control of the drilling with faster set-up times and faster round boring, together with the ability to increase the round length due to its hole accuracy. It can be seen that the face has relatively few markings, and during shift change the jumbo operates non-manned/automated resulting in greater development advance. Physicals apparently seen at Jundee have been ~60,000 drill metres per month and a ~25% reduction in drill consumable costs. It was commented that at this stage, the jumbo can only drill ahead, meshing and bolting was regarded as possibly achievable with a software upgrade.

While NST showed an innovative wearable device that could stop moving machinery if someone got too close to say a rotating drilling machine, one of the underground visit stops showed the latest ability of drone use underground to see inside and 3D map stopes etc, as shown in the figure. The drone lifts off the ground and uses lasers to initially scan the walls to provide its own “GPS” system before doing its autonomous mapping exercise beyond line of sight, but shown in 3D on a computer screen.

The “Emesent.io Hovermap” underground drone 3D mapping system applies simultaneous localization and mapping algorithms, and has been developed in conjunction with CSIRO, and an ASX listing was under consideration. The comment was made that at this stage it has to wait for the dust to settle after a blast due to reflectance from airborne dust (also encountered by ERA when trying to take pictures underground).

In the space of a year since our last Paydirt article on using exploration drones for surface mapping, they have advanced to seeing a video of the ground being covered (in addition to the mapping) shown on a mobile phone such that outcrops etc can be identified and located for instant check-up. It was viewed as simply a case of time and software development before such low cost (~$2000) drones could be capable of aeromag/other mag surveying. Black Cat (BC8) were even trying a prototype of lowering a go-pro down old shafts to map their geology, geotech/ground conditions and depth.

However, on the geological front, aside from a 3D virtual reality geological experience in an underground “mess”, NST included the results from their 3D seismic survey in presentations at Jundee that identified their Zodiac system discovery with its material footprint as shown in section in the figure. Reviewing the drill core examples in the core shed at Jundee on the site visit showed the visible gold present in the intersection of ~765g/t into Zodiac - also shown in the figure (together with a scale), ~914m downhole from an underground drill drive.

On the site visit there were a few real gold bars poured at Jundee with negligible silver content on display (as shown in the figure) which were occasionally dropped by visitors who under-estimated just how heavy a gold bar actually is, and quickly realized that those bank robbery movies where “criminals” throw them to each other are not real gold bars, as a full house-brick sized gold bar can weigh >30kg.

And of course there are the new bulk sampling and direct sampling of RC chip techniques that are being applied, plus the increasing use of the new ore sorters.

In the Adobe symposium an AI presentation showed AI growing at an exponential rate and had a sketch of children playing around an AI “bomb” (in which the fuse has been lit), speculating what sort of world could result when AI has greater brainpower than the human race, and AI develops its own AI. That AI presentation at the Adobe symposium depicted the lifetime of the human race as comparable to a 500-page book, ie boring for the first 499 pages and then Woooah what ever happened for its technology, innovation, automation and AI to literally explode on page 500. However, automation and innovation is rapidly happening and should be embraced, the train is leaving the station, climb aboard or watch it power off into the distant horizon.

Disclosure and Disclaimer : This article has been written by Keith Goode, the Managing Director of Eagle Research Advisory Pty Ltd, (an independent research company) who is a Financial Services Representative with State One Stockbroking (AFSL 247100).

Figure. Automation and Innovation Examples – mostly at Northern Star’s Jundee Gold Mine
paydirt Aug 2018

  • Written by: Keith Goode
  • Thursday, 06 September 2018