Stone and Software
As the digital mining sphere grows, Dylan Webb discusses the success of Datamine and the newest technological innovations utilised in the regional mining industry
Writer: Marcus Kääpä | Project Manager: Thomas Arnold
When we hear the word mining we don’t always consider the digital realm that underpins the mining process.
We may instead think of a gruff man hacking away at the inner wall of his cave, revealing fist-sized gems and gold. Or we envision the more modern-day scene of enormous trucks trundling down vast networks of descending roads that wind their way through hills to a central mining facility.
However, the present day sees digital tools and advanced technology utilised in every area of every sector, and mining is no different. From inventory tracking software and communications to logistics and automated machinery, the sphere is being defined by digital modernisation.
Indeed, the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has found that over the next five years, more than 77 percent of jobs in the country’s mining sector will be remodelled by technological innovations, increasing productivity by up to 23 percent.
And this is where Datamine comes in. With its founding stretching back to 1981, the firm has supplied the mining industry with technological solutions for almost 40 years, providing its clients with the ways to bring the most innovative digital software to the field (or rather, the mine).
With its headquarters based in Brisbane, Australia, Datamine is a world leading provider of mining technology and digital services. It specialises in the seamless planning and management operations of client mining companies, and provides services spanning the entire spectrum.
The company’s pride lays in its breadth of service, not only chronologically, but also in diversity. It is a global firm that provides professional service, expert industry knowledge, and covers every aspect of the mining chain technologically, from the smallest to the largest – a feat that few other businesses can claim.
Dylan Webb, CEO
“A silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an acceleration of technology adoption and acceptance of modern working practices”
Unlike most other companies (and industries for that matter), 2020 has provided Datamine with increased opportunities.
The global coronavirus pandemic has seen the decline of business growth in many sectors, and has completely altered or enhanced the world view on topics such as the nature of the workplace, commuting, sustainability, communication, and digitisation.
COVID-19 has ushered in a new age as to the way business is practiced, and has resulted in the acceleration of digital adoption this year. Through the months of pandemic-related restrictions, there has been a substantial boost to digitally related purchases and services.
According to Statista, 2018 saw the number of internet users rise to 3.92 billion, and this increased to 4.13 billion the following year. Mobile broadband alone saw around 5.3 billion global subscriptions in 2018, which then rose to almost 6.4 billion in 2019. The world, it is clear, was already on a steep upward connectivity curve well before the pandemic arrived.
For Datamine, the pandemic’s resulting effects on the technology and mining industries have brought a wealth of opportunity. As a tech-service business it has seen greater activity from its clients who are vying for its services.
“A silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an acceleration of technology adoption and acceptance of modern working practices,” adds Dylan Webb, CEO of Datamine.
Webb goes on to explain how the industry’s past (even the recent past) revolved around physical travel and visiting clients (often in remote locations), with Datamine personnel having to remain on-site in order to deliver services. This outdated business practice is making way for online communication and organisation in line with the rise of digital connectivity, a shift which has been accelerated somewhat by the outbreak of coronavirus.
Path from the past
Webb has been with Datamine for 10 years, but knew the company as far back as the 1990s when he was an end user of its mine planning solutions.
“We are lucky to have several team members that have been with the company since the early 80s, and their depth of technical knowledge combined with a new generation of energetic and innovative professionals makes Datamine a fun and rewarding place to work,” he tells us.
Webb has remained within the mining industry throughout his career. A mining engineer by background, he started in mining operations management before he became a consultant, having been driven by an interest in business improvement and strategy.
“That experience led me to understand that technology was an essential requirement to embed efficiency improvements,” he continues. “It is common to see initial improvements that rely on active management fade away with changes in focus or personnel.
“Technology addresses this challenge through automation and systematic application of a new process.”
As for the Australian mining sector on the whole, Webb goes on to explain how Datamine is fortunate in comparison to other companies operating in different sectors. Australian mining players have been largely risk-adverse in the past 10 to 15 years, reluctant to invest in advancing their technologies. But this has recently changed.
“Recently there has been a palpable change in attitude, and it is great to see the industry start to appreciate the potential benefits of digitally enabled mines,” Webb adds.
And the reason many clients choose to collaborate with Datamine is clear.
The ever increasing volume of data gives rise to the use of technology to consolidate, clean, and analyse growing amounts of data flows, turning them into the information required for decision makers to act on.
“Increasingly, mining companies are delivering value by working more effectively across traditional silos such as mining and processing, and technology provides transparency and analytical capability across the full mining value chain,” Webb explains.
Datamine stands out to clients as the primary option in this regard. The firm’s solutions span the entire mining value chain, and its customers are able to access local time zone, local language professionals, and company support in any region around the world.
“No other vendor can deliver such a breadth or depth of solutions. From managing borehole logs and assays, right through to automatically generating an invoice as concentrate is loaded onto a ship, as well as everything in between,” Webb continues.
Pioneering the future of mining
The company’s projects back up Webb’s claim, and demonstrate the firm’s professionalism and innovative achievements.
Recently, Datamine has been taking advantage of the changes in the digital and computing realm by reimagining its products with a focus on mobility and cloud technology.
“Discover Mobile is a recent success story where a new application has been developed for iOS and Android that allows exploration geologists to take subsets of GIS (geographic information system) data with them into the field,” Webb says.
“The user can be guided through a planned field trip by GPS, and they can record measurements and observations directly via the mobile interface during the day. When they return to the office, the new information is automatically synchronised into the master system and available for further analysis in the office using the full Discover application.”
Within the first 12 months of Discover Mobile’s launch, it has attracted over 1,000 active monthly users, with an additional 50 users joining with each month that passes. And into 2021, Webb assures us that the app will be extended to work with ArcGIS Pro (released to the market back in early 2020).
This will enable Discover to integrate customer mining and exploration data into the ArcGIS Pro environment, to provide seamless visualisation, compiling, analysing, mapping, and sharing of 2D and 3D spatial geoscience data.
And there are plans at work for the coming year. On top of Datamine’s 24/7 service to many customers, 2021 will see the expansion of this availability to support a broader customer base – an industry first for software providers.
“In 2021, Datamine will also launch its new commodity trading solution, MineMarket CTRM,” Webb reveals. “After a year collaborating with one of the world’s largest commodity traders in Switzerland, Datamine has extended the functionality of its leading inventory management and contract software to handle the complex needs of concentrate trading.
“This exciting new capability provides mining companies, that include trading in their business model, to track material, sell output under contract, and execute trades from a variety of sources all on a single platform.”
And for Webb, the future looks bright and busy. Datamine has taken the opportunity provided by a growing digital sphere and has aided the transfer of old-to-new methods within the mining industry – activity which leaves the CEO optimistic about what lies ahead.
“Marking 40 years in business is a great milestone, and we can see many examples in the group where the growth of the business has provided opportunities for staff and allowed us to meet the needs of customers as they have also expanded operations around the world,” Webb concludes.
“As we look to the future, it is exciting to see the ongoing opportunity to develop and grow the business through a combination of a startup mentality to innovate, a financially strong parent company that invests in growth, and a collaborative and friendly culture to facilitate good relationships across our business and with our customers.
“The digital mine will be built with a series of connected solutions, not a single platform. With an open stance to interoperability and a wide range of mining technology, Datamine is well placed to support the digitalisation of the global mining industry.”