Accent: City builds rep as mining [research] hub – by Jonathan Migneault (Sudbury Star – February 23, 2013)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

A giant 3D television displayed two separate animations of coloured rectangle s that appeared at seemingly random areas on the screen. The coloured rectangles — and they covered the entire spectrum of a rainbow — represented different mine areas, and appeared on screen in the order they should be developed.

The animation was a visual representation of mine scheduling and showcased the differences between a schedule that was put together manually, and another that was created by an algorithm developed at Laurentian University.

Scheduling ore extraction at a mine may seem like a mundane task at first, but tweaking the extraction order for peak mine performance can increase the net value of a mining operation by up to 20%.

Researchers at Laurentian’s Mining Innovation Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation (MIRARCO) developed a software solution called the schedule optimization tool, or SOT for short.

The technology helps mining companies save time and money before they start digging for minerals, and has been used by a number of companies, including Vale and Xstrata.

Lorrie Fava, MIRARCO’s program manager of ventilation and production optimization, said the program cuts down greatly on the amount of time companies need to dedicate to scheduling a new mine site. “That work might take three months, easily,” Fava said. “If you’re using SOT, you can do a run overnight.”

The program uses a genetic algorithm that takes a cue from nature and mimics evolution. It takes a number of factors into account, such as a mining companies’ operational resources and the accessibility of different mine areas. The deeper ore resources are, for instance, the more it will cost to get to them.

The program generates schedules using all the available data and then improves on them before it arrives at the most optimal plan.

The team has just started work on the next iteration of SOT, which has been dubbed SOT+. The new version, which is expected to take three years to fully develop, will take new factors into account to create better mine schedules. Those new factors include ventilation systems and geo-mechanics. Is it more cost-efficient, for instance, to dig toward or away from a fault line?

The SOT+ project is only the latest in a large number of mining-related research projects at Laurentian University.

Dean Millar, the MIRARCO research chair, said there are 17 research centres or departments at Laurentian that are conducting mining-related research.

“There are other universities around Canada looking at Laurentian with envious eyes at the moment,” Millar said. “You have an academic knowledge base, but that academic knowledge base is situated deep in the heart of industry.”

Those research projects range from polymer research at the Bharti School of Engineering, where they are trying to make stronger and lighter ropes for miners, to ways to create liquid air that can help make better cooling systems for deep mines.

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