Blasting tech takes mines into the future

Built on innovation since its inception over three decades ago, global explosives leader BME – a member of the JSE-listed Omnia Group – paves the way for mines to leverage the latest technologies for ever-greater efficiencies and productivity.

“Harnessing technology as quickly as it develops – and applying it to make blasting safer and more productive – is vital to the mining sector’s sustainability,” said BME Managing Director Joe Keenan. “Mines are seeing the value in closer digital monitoring and control of all their systems and operations. Innovation is therefore an industry-wide imperative that is demanding closer collaboration – not only with mines but between technology suppliers themselves.”

Over the years, BME’s success has been based on leveraging technology throughout its product range. This includes cold emulsion explosives – which it pioneered in the South African market – to mobile manufacturing and application equipment, digital initiation systems, consumables and cutting-edge software.

Keenan noted that the company’s commitment to digital innovation has enhanced its resilience during the Covid-19 lockdown – and ensured that customers have continued to be supplied and supported. This has allowed its customers to continue with their blast planning and execution with minimal disruption. BME’s powerful BLASTMAP™ software has facilitated remote blast planning where necessary, and assistance on this platform could continue to be provided to mines with restricted access.

“Our systems were able to reduce the points of physical contact to reduce infection risks, including a digital solution that replaced the need for truck drivers to exchange paper documents with mine security staff to gain access to site,” he said. “There is a growing drive from mines to do more with less, so digital technology will continue to be an important tool in achieving increased efficiency.”

This digitisation of the mining sector – along with the broader economy – has opened doors to the reskilling of staff into higher-value technology, according to Brian Moodley, BME’s Software Engineering Manager.

“The fourth industrial revolution has seen BME generating leading technologies with its strong development team, helping drive mine optimisation, data mining and data analytics,” said Moodley. “Our investment in research and development is an important part of the mining sector’s future success, combined with onboarding staff with the capability to meet this demand.”

He highlighted that BME aimed to be creators – rather than just receivers – of innovation, so its R&D team was constantly raising the bar. This technology focus is on its internal organisation and systems, and on its products and service offering.

“BME is already navigating towards a successful transformation, including a comprehensive organisational technology focused on the transformation of our people, culture and governance,” he said. “This proactive approach ensures we add value to customers’ operations while helping drive the benefits of the technology revolution across the sector.”

Much of this progress towards the mine of the future will be achieved by more effective collection, storage and analysis of blast-related data, to feed the continuous improvement loop. To do this, BME integrates its blast design, blast recording and blast delivery systems.

“Integration of blast data allows for easier interrogation of results, which guides the drilling and blasting process to produce consistent, quality blasts,” said BME’s Global Manager for Blasting Science, D. Scott Scovira.

BME’s BLASTMAP™ specifies explosive hole loads and assigns hole firing times, which are downloaded into its AXXIS™ electronic blast initiation system using the AXXIS™ Logger for detonator programming. After the blast, data from the AXXIS™ Logger can be used to compare as-designed versus as-fired initiation information.

The accuracy and reliability of the AXXIS™ system has also allowed ever-larger blasts, allowing mines to conduct blasting less frequently. This holds major benefits for mine productivity by reducing the disruption caused by blast-related pit stoppages. Record-size blasts have been conducted with AXXIS™ in various mining countries including Australia, Zambia and South Africa.

BME’s recent launch of its Blasting Guide application for Android mobile devices is another example of how the company is embracing the capability of digital technology. This app speeds up work in the field, replacing the traditional paper medium and allowing users to quickly calculate and check blast designs. The free Blasting Guide is available for download from the Google Play Store.