OZ Minerals never wanted to be just one of the crowd, but it has invited the “crowd” in to help it unearth new drilling targets around its Prominent Hill mine in SA’s north. In a move almost unprecedented in mining circles, the company released usually confidential geological data to the world in hopes it might result in finding more ore bodies like Prominent Hill.
“OZ Minerals has spent a lot of time and money trying to find another Prominent Hill,” says head of exploration and growth, Richard Holmes. “It’s the old adage that the best place to find a new ore body is within sight of the headframe (the frame above a mine shaft). For many years, we’ve been drilling around Prominent Hill and had very little success. So we needed to change the paradigm.”
In a bold move, OZ Minerals decided sharing the data with scientists outside the industry might allow fresh eyes on the problem and lead to discovering innovative ways of working. “We decided to use the crowd to generate new drill targets, so we partnered with Perth company Unearthed, who compiled all our geological data and then released it to the crowd,” Holmes says.
“That’s pretty groundbreaking ... mining and exploration companies consider the data they generate as their intellectual property, and sharing and collaborating with that data was a huge step forward.”
The Explorer Challenge, with a $1 million prize pool, eventuated in December 2018 and, by June 2019, had produced results. The approach by entrants from more than 50 countries created “a raft of new targets” to consider and test, some that challenged traditional geological thinking. Work on the first ground targets began late last year but has been suspended during the coronavirus pandemic.
The genius of putting the information in the hands of data scientists is that they can bring the massive power of computers to the process of analysing reams of facts and figures. There are many components to mining data, such as assays that test the make-up and quality of mineral ore. “The human mind can probably correlate five or six of those but, when you start using significant computing power, you can start correlating 30 to 40 of those,” Holmes says. “Then it can integrate other data sets, overlaying geology, geophysics, geochemistry, as many as you can get.”
In the meantime, OZ Minerals has opened up new ways of working that are proving productive for all.
“We have subsequently worked with a number of the groups who took part,” Holmes says. “We are collaborating with the crowd, using skills from different industries and taking different viewpoints.”
While the Explorer Challenge was a huge undertaking, OZ Minerals has since worked to establish a series of mini challenges. “If we have a problem, we tackle it the traditional way but also we say, ‘All right here’s a discreet piece of work, let’s put it out to the crowd and see what they think’,” Holmes says.
New companies have also emerged from the process, with groups who entered the challenge
Finding smarter, more sustainable ways of working has become part of OZ Minerals’ DNA. The company’s quest to keep improving on traditional, top-down problem solving has seen it set up study teams comprising people from inside and outside the industry to work on solutions for its future.
“OZ Minerals is a modern mining company, we’re interested in innovation and looking for safer, faster, and more efficient ways of doing our work,” says Gabrielle Iwanow, general manager Prominent Hill, a copper-gold mine located 130km south-east of Coober Pedy.
Prominent Hill takes a collaborative approach to its operation, and lessons learnt are shared across the business, and vice versa. Studies manager Kate Hobbs says this open approach means great ideas are not siloed to one area.
“For example, my team is sharing learnings and lessons with the West Musgrave Project team, where they are looking at how to reduce the project’s energy requirements, and harness renewable energy. We are also working closely with the OZ Minerals Carrapateena expansion team and collaborating with stakeholders and other companies from the industry.”
Hobbs’ team is charged with assessing opportunities to further extend Prominent Hill’s mine life and make the most of the resource asset. “It’s challenging but exciting work, as we look at what’s going to add the most value – not just financially, but also from a safety perspective, and how we can use the ore body more responsibly,” Hobbs says.
A clear view on the potential underground expansion is expected in late 2020.
We gave the world Wi-fi
Wi-fi was developed in the radiophysics lab at CSIRO in the 1990s. The technology was a revolution in mobile computing and is today estimated to be in more than 5 billion electronic devices. For its efforts, CSIRO has earned more than $430 million through licensing agreements with tech companies since 1996.
– Source: MCA