56. Does the Mining Industry Employ Interns?

Over the last year or so I have been working on a side project I founded within the tech industry.   One of the things that recently came to the forefront was the use of interns, unpaid interns, that is.   I know that  interns have been used for years in other industries including legal, politics, journalism, and marketing; however I have never come across the use of interns within the mining industry.
Intern
I was recently speaking with a marketing consultant about how to undertake tech marketing and one of the suggestions she made was to hire an intern to do much of the legwork of finding contacts and making contact with them.  My first question was why would anyone work for free?  I was told there were three reasons:
  1. For credit; as part of a course credit in college or university where an internship is part of the programme requirement.
  2. For experience; one can’t get a real job without experience and so the internship teaches something, builds up experience, and creates a portfolio of work.
  3. Networking; building up network connections can possibly lead to permanent work.
At first I was taken aback at the thought of asking someone to work for me for free.  Are we that cheap?   On the other hand if you are paying someone a salary, the expectation is that they should be relatively skilled at their job.  Giving it some further thought, , I have come to realize that the internship may actually be a win-win for both parties.
The company gets to better know potential employees and also gets some productive service from them at no cost.  The intern grows their employment experience and learns about the realities of the business world.  The students are paying the schools to teach them, and now businesses can help teach them as well, but at no cost.   It’s a win-win.
So how did our intern search go?  We posted a free ad on indeed.ca.  Within 48 hours we received eight replies, of which only 2 came close to meeting the qualifications.  Some of the applicants had no relevant experience at all.   Possibly in today’s job market people are willing to work for free on the chance they can get some experience on their resumes which will hopefully lead to a job in the future.  We’ll maintain the job ad for a couple more weeks and see what the overall response will be.
My bottom line is asking whether the mining industry can make use of interns in the areas of geology, engineering, marketing, graphics, etc?  There may be a lot of young students out there looking for opportunity and willing to do whatever it takes to help advance their careers.   Even if your payroll budget cannot afford the cost of another person, you still may be able to help out someone within the industry.
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54. Windshieldink – New Smartphone App

After the last few years, the downturn in the mining industry has given me time to pursue a few side interests. Writing this blog was one of those interests. The other was developing a new smartphone mobile app called Windshieldink. The tag line is “it’s the new way to leave a note on a windshield”. The website is Windshieldink.com
Windshieldink image
Here is an overview.
Windshieldink’s messaging platform allows anyone to anonymously send messages to vehicle owners registered with Windshieldink using the vehicle license plate number. Registering a license plate with Windshieldink is free. The app provides users the convenience of receiving their messages by e-mail or phone text message. You also have the option of receiving push notifications, attaching contact information, attaching a GPS location within your message, and there is also an in-app chat functionality.
Stats Canada reported 23.9 million motor vehicle registrations in 2015. Based on personal experience, the desire for being reachable via a license plate number was recognized as far back as the mid-1990’s and is becoming even more recognized as new vehicles enter the roadways daily.
The Windshieldink messaging platform is available worldwide, however we are concentrating marketing efforts in North America due to our limited marketing capacity.
The app is now free to download from Google Play Store and App Store and hopefully simple to use.
Here is a video link to how the app works.

Windshieldink logo

 

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51. Pre-Concentration – Savior or Not?

Can pre-concentration become a key savior for the mining industry and help in lowering metal production costs?
Pre-concentration is a way to reduce the quantity of ore requiring higher cost downstream processing, i.e. grinding in particular. By using a low cost method to pre-concentrate mineral-bearing particles into a smaller volume, one can attain significant cost savings in overall energy consumption and operational expenses. A previous blog “Remote Sensing of Ore Grades” discussed a new pre-concentration method under development.
Pre-concentration is nothing new and has been around for many years but is generally limited in the techniques available. Hence many ore types are not amenable to it..unfortunately. The main methods being used are:
Ore sorting can be done using automated optical, electrical, or magnetic susceptibility sensors to separate ore particles from waste particles. The different sensor types can include colour recognition, near infrared radiation sensors, x-ray fluorescence, x-ray transmission, radiometric, or electromagnetic sensing. The sensors can determine if a particle contains valuable mineral or waste, thereby sending a signal to activate air jets to deflect material into ore and waste bins.
Density or specific gravity difference is another property that some pre-concentration methods can rely on. Gravity based systems such as dense media separation (DMS), jigs, or centrifugal concentrators are currently in production use.
Another simple pre-concentration method used is scrubbing, whereby simply washing away fines may remove some deleterious materials prior to final processing.
 Jig Plant 1
Pre-concentration can provide several benefits to an operation:
-If done underground or at remote mine site, the net ore hoisting and ore transport costs can be reduced.
-If the pre-concentration rejects can be used as mine backfill, this can reduce backfilling costs.
-Processing of higher grade pre-concentrated mill feed can reduce total energy costs and ultimately reduce the cash cost of metal produced.
-Grinding costs can be reduced if waste particles are harder than the ore particles and they can be removed beforehand.
-Minimizing waste through the process plant will reduce the quantity of tailings that must be disposed of.
-Lowering operating costs may potentially allow lowering of the cutoff grade and increasing mineral reserves.
-Higher head grades would increase metal production without needing an increase in plant throughput.
Not all ore types are amenable to pre-concentration and therefore a rigorous testing program is required. In most cases the pre-con method would be relatively obvious to the metallurgical engineer but testing is still required to measure performance. Testing is required to determine the amount of waste rejection that can be achieved without incurring significant ore loss during the process. Generally one can produce a higher quality final product if one is willing to reject more ore with the waste, so it becomes a trade-off of recovery versus total processing cost.
Fine particles from the primary and secondary crushing stages might require bypassing the pre-con circuit. If this bypassed material is sent for downstream processing, one may need to examine crushing systems that minimize fines generation to avoid too much material bypassing the pre-con circuit.
One must also decide if the pre-con system should reject waste particles from the material stream or reject ore particles from the stream since the overall recovery and product quality will be impacted depending on which approach is used.
My bottom line is that the mining industry is continually looking for ways to improve costs and pre-concentration may be a great way to do this. Every process plant design should at least take an initial look at it to see if is feasible for their ore type. While the existing pre-concentration methods have their limitations, future technologies may bring in new ways to pre-concentrate and so this is probably an area where research dollars would be well spent.
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49. Remote Sensing of Ore Grades

The mining industry must continually find ways to improve and modernize. The most likely avenue for improvement will be using new technologies as they become available. One of the new players on the scene is a start-up company called “MineSense Technologies Ltd.”  They are a British Columbia company looking to improve ore extraction and recovery processes based on the sensing and sorting of low-grade ore (pre-concentration in other words). They hope their pre-concentration methods will improve mine economics by reducing the consumption of energy, water, and reagents.

Minesense

 It’s not entirely clear to me how developed their technology is, but MineSense is relying on a combination of ground-penetrating sensors with other sensor technology in order to measure and report the grade of ore in real time. Existing ore sorting technologies seem to focus on distinguishing mineralized material from gangue, but MineSense seems to be targeting using actual ore grades as the defining factor. They hope to be able to eventually integrate their technology into equipment such as shovels, scooptrams, conveyors, feeders, and transfer chutes.
More specifically their proprietary technology is based on High Frequency Electromagnetic Spectrometry and High Speed X-Ray Fluorescence sensors. Reportedly these can deliver better sensitivity and operate at high speeds. They plan to develop two distinct product lines; shovel-based systems; and conveyor belt-based systems.
Their ShovelSense system would be a real-time mineral telemetry and decision system and used for measurement of ore quality while material is being scooped into the dipper, then reporting the ore quality and type to the grade control/ore routing system, and then enabling real-time online ore/waste dispatch decisions. Additional features may include tramp metal and missing tooth detection.
Their belt conveyor systems (SortOre and BeltSense) will use high-speed multi-channel sensing to characterize conveyed ore and waste in real time, allowing grades and tonnages to be reported and allowing ore to be diverted to correct destinations based on the sensor responses. MineSense say that pilot units are operating at 20 tph and systems of up to 2000 tph are in the development stages. Ore sorting has been around for a long time, with companies like Tomra (www.tomra.com), but possibly the MineSense technical approach will be different.
My bottom line is that we should all keep an eye on the continued development of this technology, especially as MineSense completes larger field trials. Hopefully they will readily share the results with us since it will be critical for industry players to see more actual case study performance data on their website. I recognize that developing new technology will have its successes and failures. Setbacks should not necessarily be viewed as fatal flaws since it takes time to work out all the kinks. Hopefully after being able to fine tune their technology they can advance to their next stage which will be to convince the mining industry to adopt it.
P.S. Unfortunately it appears MineSense don’t have a newsletter sign-up form on their website to help us in following their progress.
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48. Online Collaboration and Management Tools (Part 2)

This blog is the Part 2 continuation of the post from last week regarding software tools that the mining people should take a look at. Here are a few more ideas that I would like to share, having found that these are also great to have in your toolbox.
Google Sheets and Google Docs: When undertaking group reviews of spreadsheets or text documents don’t many of us have frustrations? We typically end up with different versions of the same document floating around and nobody knows which one is the most recent version and which one they should be editing. With Google Sheets and Google Docs you can create online spreadsheets and documents and then allow people on your team to review and edit them in real-time online. Writing reports gets simpler since there is only one version of the document with which everyone is working. A “track changes” option is still there (called “Suggesting”) and everyone can see the edits as they are being made. No more asking “who has the most current version?” it’s always there on-line. This type of collaborative editing is also great for certain types of spreadsheets as well as for Design Criteria Documents that are regularly being updated by different team members.
Foxit Reader:  This is an alternative to Adobe Reader and can be used for reviewing PDF documents, whether text documents or drawings. Foxit provides great editing and commenting tools like highlighting text, adding comments, drawing lines and boxes, adding comment balloons, cut & pasting images into the PDF file, and then saving the commented version. For the most part I have stopped using Adobe Reader and have now switched over to Foxit.
Foxit Reader screenshot

Foxit Reader screenshot

UberConference:  This is an online application for team conference calling that allows screen sharing, online conversations, sends out meeting reminders, and it will call participants at the require time. Watch the video on their website to gain a better understanding; it’s entertaining and true to life.
Uber Conference screenshot

Uber Conference screenshot

Those are a few of the software tools that I have found useful and so now you’re probably wondering “what else is out there for me?” The website The Freelance Stack lists many of different tools that exist. Check them out and some of the others may be of value to you. :
One of the key marketing approaches used by most of the tech companies is to provide a fully functional product for free and then charge money to access the enhanced features. The objective is to get future users familiarized and trained on the system, and then they will decide that they wish to upgrade their capability and so pay for the full product suite. I’m not sure if any geology or mining software  is available in a basic functional format enabling optional upgrading. By functional, I don’t mean simply providing a “viewer” to view the work of others or a 30-day trial period, I mean actual software that provides some actual useful capability for free in order to get you hooked.
My bottom line is that there is a lot of good stuff out there, readily available, much of it free, and it can make managing your project teams easier. Just because it’s related to the tech industry, don’t assume it wouldn’t have an application in the mining industry.
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47. Online Collaboration and Management Tools (Part 1)

As part of a new side business venture I have been working alongside a team of website and mobile app developers. It has been a good learning experience for me to see how the tech teams do things versus how the mining consulting industry conducts its business. We know there is a lot of private equity money flowing into tech and not mining, so they must be doing something right.
The tech start-up industry has developed its own set of jargon, like agile management, lean start-ups, disruption, minimum viable products, pings, and sprints. Some of their key methodologies would not make sense for the mining industry where one doesn’t have the luxury of trial-and-error and customer feedback to help complete your project. For software development, the attitude is get it out the door fast and your customers will then tell you what fixes they want to see. In mining you need to get it right the first time (hopefully). Having said that, some mining people will say they have seen 43-101 technical reports that follow the “wait for customer feedback” model.
Now where the tech industry can provide us with some useful advice is in the use of project management and collaboration tools. The software developers often work remotely and so make heavy use of the technology that exists or they develop new technology tools to meet their needs. Mining teams are starting to work from remote offices more often these days.
The following is a partial list (Part 1) of free software tools that I have used recently, mainly because I was forced to by the tech teams. Subsequently I have found the tools easy to use and most definitely some can be applied in our own industry, especially with diverse mining study teams. There are a lot more tech tools out there but my list includes the ones that I have personally come in contact with. Most of these are free to use with limited features and enhanced features are available if you subscribe to the full version at minimal cost. However even the free versions are useful and can be used to train your team. Most of them provide both web based and app based access so even when you’re on the road you can still use them and contribute to the team.
Trello: If you want to create a task list for your team, this is the app to use. Imagine a bunch of yellow post-it notes that you can put under various project categories, assign persons to each note, attached a file if you wish, and then have back and forth discussions within each note. Then once a task is done, just drag the note to another category (e.g. “In Progress”, “Completed”). Anyone or selected people can create a note or provide comment. See the image below for an example Trello screenshot.

 

Trello screenshot

Example Trello Screenshot

Slack: If you want to have a running record of group discussions that all or only selected team members can follow and join in on, then Slack is for you. It can replace the long confusing back-and-forth emails that we commonly see, when people sometimes forget to “reply all” so now you’re out of the loop. See the image below for an example Slack screenshot. It’s great for discussions amongst the team and you can have private one-on-one discussions or wide open team discussions and can attached files too. It provides permanent record of discussions or decisions made.
Slack Screenshot

Example Slack Screenshot

Basecamp: is similar program that incorporates features from both the above and some people swear by this tool. I have not personally used it so cannot vouch for it, but some say it is very good. Watch the video on their website describing what it can do.
My bottom line is that there is a lot of good stuff out there, readily available, much of it free, and can facilitate the management of your project teams. Just because its tech industry related, don’t assume it wouldn’t have an application in the mining world. Next week in Part 2 of this blog, I will describe a few more of the tech tools that I have found useful.
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40. Integra Gold Rush Challenge – Watch for it at PDAC

Has everyone heard about the Gold Rush Challenge contest being held by Integra Gold Corp?  If not, I’d like to provide some information on it.  It’s another innovative event happening in the mining industry, following along on the footsteps of the Goldcorp Challenge held in 2001.

Gold Rush Challenge

The Integra Gold Rush Challenge is a contest whereby entrants are given access to a geological database and they are asked to prepare submissions presenting the best prospects for the next gold discovery on the Sigma/Lamaque properties.  Winners can get a share of the C$1 million prize.   Entrants will be given access to a database built from six terabytes of historical information that has been consolidated down to roughly 25 GB.
Integra Gold hopes that the contest will expand their access to quality people outside their company enabling their own in-house geological team to focus on other exploration projects.  Integra hope that they can get cutting-edge, innovative ideas not just from people in the mining industry but also from anyone proficient at analyzing big data.
From a recent press release update (Jan 6, 2016) here is what is currently happening.  It’s turning into quite the corporate event at PDAC.
In total 1,342 entrants from over 83 countries registered to compete in the challenge, resulting in 95 teams and over 100 proposals. Integra Gold is currently in the process of selecting the top 20 submissions which will be given to the Challenge’s technical judging panel.  The Challenge’s technical judging panel is made up of Neil Adshead, Andrew Brown, Benoît Dubé, James Franklin, David Rhys, and Brian Skanderberg.
By February 15th the judging panel will narrow the field down to the top five finalists.  These five teams will present to panel of industry leaders in a “shark-tank” style live finale at PDAC 2016.  Proceeds from the evening will go to a variety of Val-d’Or based charities.  The PDAC panel has been nominated and consists of Brent Cook, Chantal Gosselin, Rob McEwen, Sean Roosen, and Randy Smallwood.   It’s good to see the interest and participation from so many industry experts.
At PDAC there are always a lot of things to do, from visiting corporate booths, the tradeshow, gala award events, and hospitality suites.  Now the Integra Gold Rush Challenge brings another function to add to your PDAC agenda.
By the way, regarding the 2001 Goldcorp Challenge, it has been reported that it resulted in $CAD 575,000 being split amongst several teams and it having identified deposits were worth more than $6 billion and saved two to three years off the company’s exploration time.
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33. Blogging and Spam

This is a short non-mining topic but it’s something I found interesting.  Spam and spamming is everywhere.
I started this little WordPress blogging site a few months and enable the readers to comment on each blog.  Well lo and behold it didn’t take long for the spam to start arriving.  The image below shows the typical spam that I would get in the comments section, even though commenting requires one to enter an email address in order to post.  It took a few weeks to start but most recently I would be getting 5 to 10 of these spammed “comments” each day. It’s not like my website has a lot of followers or comments, but it still ended up a target to the bots or spiders or whatever else that is roaming around the web.

 

Example WordPress blog spam

Example of spam sent to blog comment.

The first solution is to turn off automatic commenting to prevent comments from being posted immediately on-line.  I switched to moderated comments whereby each comment needs to be manually approved by the administrator before being posted live.  However after being continually asked to approve a lot of pending spam comments, it got tiresome.  The next solution was implementing the CAPTCHA (see image below).

 

Example of a Captcha

Example Captcha form

WordPress has various plug-ins designed to limit spam.  One of the simpler solutions is to add a “captcha”, which is the little box where you need to type in a word or number.  This is designed to hinder the automated spam-bots.  CAPTCHA is an acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”, a great acronym.
After five days of using the captcha, I have received no new spam and weeks later still none.   However this won’t stop any manual spamming, so that will be the next thing to wait for.   It’s interesting to see how much unproductive technical energy is being expended out there in cyberspace.
What’s the reason for this specific spam that I am getting?  I understand it’s not to install a virus or malware but part of search engine optimization (SEO).  Google search will rank websites higher on the search result if that site has many other websites linking (pointing) to it.   So creating web links for a certain site on various blogs will improve that site’s rank.   I also heard that if Google detects a lot of such phoney links on my site, they will downgrade me as punishment. There is always someone out there looking for a new angle.
 
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31. Meetups and Mining Millennials

Over the last few weeks I have had several business exchanges with the Toronto tech start-up community and have noticed some similarities and differences with the junior mining industry.  The junior mining model was essentially a precursor to the tech start-up model as it relates to getting early stage funding which is then followed up with additional financing rounds.  One difference is that mining mainly used the public financing route (IPO’s) while the tech field mainly relies on private equity venture capital (VC’s).
There are a few more differences that are readily apparent to me.   In general, the tech industry is young, vibrant, tech-savvy, uses the latest in social technology to collaborate while the mining industry seems to be lagging behind on some of these aspects.  The following article will describe a few of my observations.
My initial experience with the tech industry was mainly related to the numerous after-hours meetings (called “meetups”) held from 6 to 9pm  and used for networking purposes, or to allow guest speakers to describe their experience in starting companies, or for “how-to” training with new techniques (e.g. Google Analytics, Facebook advertising, email marketing, etc.).   Attending these meetups is usually free; they are typically held at the offices of tech companies, and they often provide pizza and drinks. Networking is a primary driver for these meetings.
Scheduling of such meetings is done via the website www.meetup.com.  Meetup.com works well for distributing the meeting notice and then tracking the attendees.  Meetups are not only tech-related; they are also held for various subjects such as hiking groups, theatre groups, business marketing, and other topics of interest.  They are a good way to create a well connected community.  One thing I noticed is that here in Toronto there are no geology or mining meetups posted on the meetup website, so the mining industry may be missing out on a good way to create a close and collaborative community.
With regards to local mining meetings here in Toronto, as far as I know there are three regular mining events (PDAC is an annual event).  The CIM has a monthly luncheon with a cost of $50-$65 per lunch (not exactly tailored for the millenials).   There is a Toronto Geological Discussion Group that holds meetings intermittently and seems to consist of the 50-60 yr old geologists demographic.  The third event is Mining 4 Beer, which a small group that meets intermittently at a local bar.  These few events don’t create any real buzz for those working in the mining industry in Toronto.  There are a lot of mining companies here and a lot of mining people but not a lot of vibrancy.
Some of the tech meetups are held in local tech offices.  These offices are great; they have the open concept, pool tables, ping pong, video games, kitchen fully stocked….who wouldn’t want to work here?  The last time I was in the offices of a large engineering firm I felt like a lab rat in a cubical maze trying to find the cheese (i.e. conference room).   I’m not saying engineering offices can switch to the tech office style layout, but enjoying the office environment might help draw people to work in the mining industry.
Perhaps it’s easy to have a positive work attitude when money is being thrown at you (as is happening in the tech field) versus having to scratch and claw for funds like mining must do right now.   However I suggest if one wants more smart young people to come into the industry then one needs to think young.  This means more than just buying the latest 3D geological or mining software.  It means creating an attitudinal environment that people want to work in.    The current Integra Gold challenge (like the Goldcorp challenge from several years ago) may be type of novel thinking needed in the future.
In 1998 I was working on the Diavik Project at their engineering office in Calgary.  They provided a unique office layout whereby everyone on the owner’s team had an “office” but no front wall on the office so you couldn’t shut yourself in.  There were numerous map layout tables scattered throughout the office to purposely foster discussion amongst the geological and engineering team.  A similar type philosophy is used by Apple in their office layout design where even the kitchen placement has a purpose.   Discussion amongst your people is good; camping yourself in an office is not good.
Another interesting thing I noticed with the tech field is that when start-up tech companies are given an opportunity to tell their story, typically they only have 5 to 10 minute time limit to get their point across.  No long winded thirty page PowerPoint presentation to explain what they are doing.  The tech industry is also big on the “elevator pitch”, a one minute simple verbal summary of what they are doing.  The tech people are taught to be concise; if you can’t explain it in plain language in one minute then it’s too complicated.   Conversely in many mining investor presentations they can be highly technical and tailored towards other technical people and not the average person or average investor.   Who is the target audience for those presentations?
Even the contracting, billing, invoicing side of the tech business are interesting.   Using sites such as Freshbooks, the consulting services contract is signed electronically, invoices are sent electronically, and payment is made electronically.  It’s a very fast and efficient system.
For communication and collaboration, they use systems such as Slack.  No more of the long email threads with five people cc’d on each email, various people responding, with no one sure what is being agreed to.   Slack uses a chatting approach, similar to text messaging, which makes it easier to follow the conversation and share files.  Can older mining executives be taught to use Slack?  I don’t see a problem with that as long as one earnestly wants to learn it. It’s really not that complicated.
My bottom line is that I can see a great difference in the atmosphere and attitude in the tech field versus the mining industry.  The junior mining game has been the precursor for the tech start-up industry but has not kept up with the modernization of how people like to work.    Many older personnel are leaving the mining industry in the next few years and the loss of this mining experience is a big negative; however the fresh thinking that may follow behind could be a small positive.
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29. New Mining Software and 43-101 Legal Issues

NI 43-101 puts a fair amount of legal liability on the Qualified Person preparing a resource or reserve estimate.  The QP is to stand behind the accuracy of their work and take legal responsibility for it.
Every so often some new mining software comes along and I often wonder what are the risks in using it?  Some examples of new mining software that I have heard about but not personally used nor seen in any 43-101 studies are MiningMath SimSched, the ThreeDify’s software packages, and Bentley.
Given that I as a QP am legally responsible for my work, I am apprehensive about how one can be assured that the new software will deliver accurate results that I can rely on and thereby will accept legal liability.  The last thing I would want to do is prepare a public technical report which is subsequently found to be in error due to a software bug.   Irrespective of 43-101, if you are working at a mining operation the last thing you want to do is present management with an incorrect reserve, pit design, or production plan.  If you are a consultant, how agreeable will your client be when you tell him that his study was done using a novel software package and not one of the industry standard packages?
I recall when I was working as an employee of a major mining company that there was a reluctance to adopt any new software that was unproven and not an industry standard.  That large mining company had no issues with paying the high purchase price and annual maintenance fees for their software licenses.  However that many not be the same situation for the small junior mining company or small consultant.   The new software may be cheaper, may be great, and may be an improvement at a lower cost, but I’m not sure how one addresses the software risk.  There is no rule that says “all software output is correct simply because it comes from a computer”.
Sometimes I wonder when mines go through rigorous mine-to-mill field reconciliations on ore tonnage or head grade, the problems always seem to be either an operational issue or a geological modelling difficulty.  What about it being some type of a software bug or incorrect software toggle that the field reconciliation is trying to match to?
As a QP, I suggest the onus is on the new software developer to demonstrate that they can produce reliable and comparable results under all conditions.  They need to convince the users that their software is accurate.  Perhaps over time as new software gets wider industry adoption, we will see more public reports that use it and hence it will get more acceptance.
When developing a market for new software, it’s interesting to ask whether better long term traction will be derived from more consultant usage or more mining company usage.   Will mining companies use the software if their consultants are using it, or will consultants use it if more mining companies are using it?  It’s an interesting question that new software vendors must deal with in order to grow their market share.
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