Eyes wide-open: Canada’s Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) at the top of its game, creating solutions for the mineral exploration sector
By Jillian Mitchell
The word “innovation” has many definitions, but perhaps French novelist Marcel Proust said it best: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Comparatively, Proust’s words are echoed in the mandate of the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI), a leading-edge organization within the Canadian metal mining industry dedicated to innovation.
Simply put, the centre focuses on the implementation of new and innovative solutions in five strategic areas: exploration, deep mining, integrated mine engineering, underground mine construction, and environment and sustainability. These solutions are geared towards delivering innovation.
“If you’re not making a change in the way things get done, then innovation hasn’t happened,” says Douglas Morrison, president & CEO of CEMI, who accredits the centre’s step-change procedure—a three-step plan involving research, development and implementation (R&D+I)—to the centre’s successful introduction of new industry strategies. “A lot of people use the words ‘research’ and ‘innovation’ interchangeably—but they’re not the same. It has to have a practical outcome to be a successful innovation, whereas a research project is a success whether you get the answer you wanted, or some other answer.”
Following these three technical steps, CEMI has now entered the commercialization phase to aid in bringing these innovations to market.
Currently, CEMI boasts three operational exploration-related developments: the Rapid Development Program (RDP), the Ultra-Deep Mining Network (UDMN), and the FindMine initiatives. As with all CEMI projects, all three initiatives will strive for a reduction in cost/capital demands and environmental impact, and will achieve a research-to-marketplace status in one to three years.
Rapid Development Program
The RDP’s Single-Heading Lateral Development project, which includes the creation of an advanced canopy designed to foster parallel activities of support and drill processes at the development face, is the most active of CEMI’s exploration initiatives.
The canopy is poised to reduce the number of re-entries required during the four major explorative mining processes, thereby rendering time lost through a shortened cycle.
“What we’re trying to do is change the sequence of activities we have in our development cycle so that we can reduce its length,” says Morrison. “The hope is that it will excel the rate of advance. The rate of advance controls the speed at which we get to a new ore body. The faster you get to the ore, the better the present value of the project.
The mesh-concrete-steel design includes two overlapping canopies—a face canopy to protect the face machine and operators, and a support canopy to protect the support machine and operators. This allows for simultaneous activity, such as drilling and charging alongside ground support.
Built to withstand 50 tonnes of ground fall, the prototype successfully passed the initial field trial in late 2014.
“It’s performed better than we expected,” says Morrison, noting that the canopy was pushed to hold 80 tonnes during the trial. Two additional field trials will be implemented in 2015 with the goal of introducing a finalized design to industry by December 2015.
Ultra-Deep Mining Network (UDMN)
Managed by CEMI, UDMN aims to become the leading expert in ultra-deep (below 2.5 kilometres) research and innovation, and to solve the challenges that impact resource extraction in these environments. By supporting solution-providers capable of creating the industry-needed tools and technologies in the short term, it will lead the way in helping ultra-deep mines to operate more effectively and safely, generate more value, improve the human environment, and enhance mine productivity.
Among these challenges is the need for improved integrated personal protective equipment (IPPE), such as helmets and specialized clothing better suited to hot underground conditions.
According to Morrison, the new helmet prototype will better integrate industry add-ons, such as earmuffs, safety glasses, dust masks, and communications, into a completely hands-free helmet. Special consideration will be allotted to elements such as cooling, filtered breathing, air-quality monitoring, position tracking (RFID), noise reduction, medical monitoring (e.g., heart rate, breathing), and mine alerts.
The improved IPPE are both poised to enhance the wellbeing and safety of miners working at ultra-deep levels.
Though still in the early developmental stages, both IPPEs speak to the UDMN’s overall goals, such as increased productivity, decreased risk to workers, lower energy utilization, as well as lower capital and operating costs achieved through performance and efficiency improvements.
In 2014, the Business-led Networks of Centres of Excellence (BL-NCE) program awarded the network $15 million.
Moving forward, Morrison shares that the UDMN will continue to diversify, as the program requires CEMI to have the capacity to take on new projects.
FindMine – Mineral Exploration & Geophysics
Anticipated to significantly enhance structural evolution comprehension, CEMI’s FindMine initiative is focused on the development of expedient exploration techniques, such as structural field analysis, remote sensing, 3D-kinematic restoration, and analogue modeling.
For the past five years, CEMI’s initiative has been spearheaded by geophysics specialist Dr. Richard Smith of Laurentian University. Dr. Smith’s research is geared towards finding improved exploration techniques for ore bodies adjacent to existing mines and Greenfield sites.
“Because of the nature of the mining businesses, we have focused most of our attention up until now on productivity issues. That was our primary target,” Morrison says. “Our secondary target now is beginning to look at the FindMine program, looking at exploration techniques.”
Currently, this new phase of the program is in its infancy, but steps have been made towards the primary research goal, which is to further the processes and structures that control mineralization in the more non-traditional Cu-Ni-PGE ore deposits.
To qualify as a CEMI project, a proposed project must first meet the centre’s three criteria: one, projects that have a good chance of being successful in the marketplace; two, that are achievable in a short time; and three, that have the potential to double—or triple—performance.
As Morrison clarifies, “It’s not that we’re always going to be successful in doing that, but if we aim for double and we only make half, then that’s pretty good. But if we only aim for five per cent in the first place, the best we’ll achieve is five per cent. So the target is the best you can hope to achieve.”
According to the company president and CEO, innovation rests in the gap between research components and practical marketplace solutions. It’s in this gap that the service and supply sector play a major role.
“Essentially, today, if we don’t offer the mining companies a plug-and-play solution, it will not be implemented,” he says. “Our first big step forward was recognizing that the service and supply sector was the third component for a successful innovation process, because they’re the ones that will help us bridge from the researchers to the mining companies.”