NPV One – Cashflow Modelling Without Excel

NPV One mining software
From time to time, I encounter interesting software applications related to the mining industry.  I recently became aware of NPV One, an Australian based, cloud hosted application used to calculate mineral project economics. Their website is https://npvone.com/npvone/
NPV One is targeting to replace the typical Excel based cashflow model with an online cloud model. It reminds me of personal income tax software, where one simply inputs the income and expense information, and then the software takes over doing all the calculations and outputting the result.
NPV One may be well suited for those not comfortable with Excel modelling, or not comfortable building Excel logic for depreciation, income tax, or financing calculations. These calculations are already built in the NPV One application.
I had a quick review of NPV One, being given free access to test it out. I spent a bit of time looking at the input menus and outputs, but by no means am I proficient in the software after this short review.
Like everything, I saw some very good aspects and some possible limitations. However, my observations may be a bit skewed since I do a lot of Excel modelling and have a strong comfort level with it. Nevertheless, Excel cashflow modelling has its own pro’s and con’s, some of which have been irritants for years.

NPV One – Pros and Cons

NPV One mining softwarePros

  1. NPV One develops financial models that are in a standardized format. Models will be very similar to one another regardless of who creates it. We are familiar with Excel “artists” that have their own modelling style that can make sharing working models difficult. NPV One might be a good standard solution for large collaborative teams looking at multiple projects while working in multiple offices.
  2. NPV One, I have been assured, is error free. A drawback with Excel modelling is the possibility of formula errors in a model, either during the initial model build or by a collaborator overwriting a cell on purpose (or inadvertently).
  3. With NPV One, a user doesn’t need to be an Excel or tax modelling expert to run an economic analysis since it handles all the calculations internally.
  4. NPV One allows the uploading of large input data sets; for example life-of-mine production schedules with multiple ore grades per year. This means technical teams can still generate their output (production schedules, annual cost summaries, etc.) in Excel. They can then simply import the relevant rows of data into NPV One using user-created templates in CSV format.
  5. As NPV One evolves over time with more client input, functionality and usability may improve as new features are added or modified.

Cons

Like anything, nothing is perfect and NPV may have a few issues for me.
  1. Since I live and breathe with Excel, working with an input-based model can be uncomfortable and take time to get accustomed to. Unlike Excel, in NPV One, one cannot see the entire model at once and scroll down a specific year to see production, processing, revenue, costs, and cashflow. With NPV jump to. If you’re not an avid Excel user, this issue may not be a big deal.
  2. In Excel one can see the individual formulas as to how a value is being calculated.  Excel allows one to follow a mathematical trail if one is uncertain which parameters are being used. With NPV One the calculations are built in. I have been assured there are no errors in NPV One, so accuracy is not the issue for me. It’s more the lack of ability to dissect a calculation to learn how it is done.
  3. With NPV One, a team of people may be involved in using it. That’s the benefit of collaborative cloud software. However that means there will be a learning curve or training sessions that would be required before giving anyone access to the NPV One model.  Although much of NPV One is intuitive, one still needs to be shown how to input and adjust certain parameters.
  4. Currently NPV One does not have the functionality to run Monte Carlo simulations, like Excel does with @Risk. I understand NPV One can introduce this functionality if there is user demand for it. There will likely be ongoing conflict to try to keep the software simple to use versus accommodating the requests of customers to tailor the software to their specific needs.

Conclusion

The NPV One software is an option for those wishing to standardize or simplify their financial modelling.
Whether using Excel or NPV One, I would recommend that a single person is still responsible for the initial development and maintenance of a financial model. The evaluation of alternate scenarios must be managed to avoid it becoming a modelling team free for all.
Regarding the cost for NPV One, I understand they are moving away from a fixed purchase price arrangement to a subscription based model. I don’t have the details for their new pricing strategy as of May 2023. Contact Christian Kunze (ck@npvone.com) who can explain more, give you a demo, and maybe even provide a trial access period to test drive the software.
To clarify I received no compensation for writing this blog post, it is solely my personal opinion.
Regarding Excel model complexity mentioned earlier, I have written a previous blog about the desire to keep cashflow models simple and not works of art. You can read that blog at Mine Financial Modelling – Please Think of Others”.
As with any new mining software, I had also posted some concerns with QP responsibilities as pertaining to new software and 43-101. You can read that post at the appropriately titled “New Mining Software and 43-101 Legal Issues”.

 

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Steeper Pit Slopes Can Save Money

We likely have all heard the statement that increasing pit wall angles will result in significant cost savings to the mining operation.
What is the potential cost saving?
The steeper wall angles reduce waste stripping volumes, which also provide other less obvious benefits.
I was recently in a situation where we undertook some comparative open pit designs using both 45 and 50 degree inter-ramp angles (“IRA”). I would like to share some of those results and discuss where all the benefits may lay.

Comparative Pit Designs

In this project, four separate open pits were designed with 45 and 50 degree IRA’s in an area with hilly topography. Some of the pits had high walls that extended up the valley hillsides. Its not hard to envision that waste stripping reductions would be seen along those areas with steepened walls.
The results of applying the increased  inter-ramp angle to each of the four pits is shown in the Bar Chart. Note that the waste reduction is not necessarily the same for each pit.  It depends on the specific topography around each pit.
However, on average, there was an overall 15% reduction in waste tonnage.
The Table shown below presents the cumulative tonnage for all four pits. The 50 degree wall results in a waste decrease of 25.4 million tonnes (15%), with a strip ratio reduction from 5.8:1 to 5.0:1.
There is also a very minor decrease in ore tonnage. This is because the 50 degree slopes did lose some ore behind the walls that is being recovered by the 45 degree slope.
In both scenarios the project life would be about 10 years at an assumed ore processing rate of 3 Mtpa.

4 Positive Impacts of Steeper Walls

In general one can typically see four positive outcomes from adopting steeper pit walls. They are as follows:
1. Cost Savings: The waste tonnage reduction over the 10 year life would be about 25.4 million tonnes. At a mining cost of $2.00/tonne, this equates to $50.8 million tonnes spent less on stripping. This could move the project NPV from marginal to profitable, since most waste is normally stripped towards the front part of the mining schedule with less discounting.
The next time you are looking at the NPV from an open pit project, take a quick look to see if the pit slope assumptions are conservative or optimistic. That decision can play a significant role in the final NPV.
2. Equipment Fleet Size: Over the 10 year life, the average annual mining rate would range from 20.5 Mtpa (45 deg) to 18.1 Mtpa (50 deg). On a daily basis, the average would range from 56,100 tpd (45 deg) versus 49,700 tpd (50 deg). While this mining rate reduction is not likely sufficient to eliminate a loader, it could result in the elimination of a truck or two.   This would have some capital cost saving.
3. Waste Dump Size: The 15% reduction in the waste tonnage means external waste dumps could be 15% smaller. This may not have a huge impact but could be of interest if waste storage sites are limited on the property. It could have a more significant impact if local closure regulations require open pit backfilling.
4. Pit Crest Location: The steeper wall angles result in a shift in the final pit crest location. The Image shows the impact that the 5 degree steepening had on the crest location for one of the pits in this scenario.
Although in this project the crest location wasn’t critical, there are situations where rivers, lakes, roads, mine facilities, or public infrastructure are close to the pit.  A steeper wall could improve ore recovery at depth while maintaining the same buffer setback distance.

Conclusion

Steeper pit walls can have multiple benefits at an open pit mining operation. However, these benefits can all be negated if the rock mass cannot tolerate those steeper walls. Pit wall failures could be minor or they could have major impacts. There are the obvious worker safety issues, as well as equipment damage and production curtailment concerns with slope failures.  Public perception of the mining operation also comes into play with dangerously unstable slopes.
Steepening of the pit walls is great in theory, but always ensure that geotechnical engineers have confirmed it is reasonable.
It is relatively easy to justify spending additional time and money on proper geotechnical investigations and geotechnical monitoring given the potential slope steepening benefits.
When designing pits, there is some value in looking at alternate designs with varying slope angles to help the team understand if there are potential gains and how large they might be.
In closing, I previously wrote a related blog post about how pit walls are configured to ensure safe catch bench widths and decisions as to whether one should use single, double, or triple benching. That earlier post can be read at this link. Pit Wall Angles and Bench Widths – How Do They Relate?
Feel free to share your personal experiences if you are aware of other benefits (or even downsides) to steeper pit walls that I did not mention.
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Life as an Engineer – Read All About It

One of the interesting aspects of being an engineer in the mining industry is travelling around the globe (or even) around your own country. I have been to over a dozen countries as part of my career and this only makes me a small-time traveller compared to other engineers I know. Travelling and experiencing the world is often part of the job, whether working for a junior miner, a major, a financial house, a consulting firm, or an equipment vendor. It is actually quite difficult to avoid travel if you work in mining.

Diavik Project

Recently a former colleague of mine on the Diavik Diamond Diavik project has published book that describes his life as an engineer. The book is titled Roseway: a Life of Adventure and is available on Amazon.
Its the story of John Wonnacott, a Canadian professional engineer who was involved in the construction of several projects, including the Diavik Diamond mine in Canada, a nickel smelter in China, a gold mine in Brazil, and a titanium mine in Madagascar to list a few.
John has a broad background, having conducted engineering studies in the jungles of Indonesia, the cold of Greenland, the sands of the desert, the heat of Australia, the altitude of the Andes. He has documented his engineering career in his new book.
Disclaimer: I have not yet read the book since it has only recently been published. However John has kindly sent me some excerpts that I have reprinted below to provide everyone with a sense for the content and style.

Some Excerpts

Introduction

At one time or another, I have been a professional paper-boy, forest worker, tree planter, market gardener, food processing equipment operator, lobster fisherman’s helper, commercial dragger deckhand, short-order cook, military engineering officer, computer system installer, greenhouse worker, permafrost researcher, marine oil spill cleanup specialist, pyrometallurgy researcher, garbage landfill operator, project manager, construction company general manager, regional director, open pit diamond miner, underground gold miner, corporate vice-president, design consultant, company owner, private corporation president and for 50 years, a damn good engineer. I have also been happily married to my wonderful wife Carole Anne for more than 52 years and we have 2 outstanding children. So I can add “husband”, “father” and “grandfather” to the list – but making lists like this is boring. Let me tell you my story.

Newfoundland

I remember in the late fall of that year, the company had a chance to bid on a larger project in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland. So our President, Frank Nolan (he was a brother to Fred Nolan, the infamous land-owner at Oak Island, by the way), decided he wanted to see the site and he chartered a Bell 106 helicopter to fly us there from Deer Lake. It was December (they say “December month” in that province) and when we got close to the Park, we ran into a sudden snow squall.
From bright sunny weather we were suddenly flying in heavy wet snow. I was sitting in the back of the chopper, with Frank sitting in the left front passenger seat. We were chatting with the pilot, via the radio headsets, when suddenly there was a loud “BEEP BEEP BEEP” sound coming from the front of the aircraft, and a number of the instrument lights started flashing. The engine had cut out – we learned later that wet snow had blocked the air intake and the engine had stalled – and we started descending pretty fast. Most people don’t realize that a helicopter will glide (quite steeply, at a glide angle of about 10 to 1) provided the pilot gets the torque off the rotor and he makes the correct feathering adjustments.
Our pilot did that instinctively and when we passed through the squall he calmly explained to us what was happening as he looked around for an open, flat spot to land. We didn’t have many options as we were flying over a densely wooded forest, with the mountains of Gros Morne and a deep fiord up ahead. But the pilot spotted a snow-covered frozen bog that was not a lot bigger than the helicopter and he put us down there as smoothly as if the engine hadn’t stopped. Maybe the deep snow cushioned our impact, because I felt nothing. But the instant we landed, Frank Nolan wrenched his door open, and he bolted out of the machine, straight ahead, in front of us.
The rotor was still spinning rapidly, and just as Frank ran ahead, the chopper settled further into the snow, tilting the machine forward in the process. With the chopper blades almost skimming the top of the snow, both the pilot and I expected Frank to be cut into pieces by the rotor, but he was just past their reach and he ran on, unaware of his narrow escape. When the spinning parts stopped, the pilot and I climbed out of the chopper to catch up with Frank. Examination of the machine showed us how the snow had plugged the air intake. The pilot cleared away the snow, and walked around the chopper once and then we took off again. We continued our aerial inspection of the National Park project and later that afternoon we flew back to Deer Lake.

Madagascar

The QMM field office In Port Dauphin, Madagascar was located near the edge of town, and I typically walked from my lodging to the office each morning when I was there, about the time when school started for the children. Typically I passed dozens and dozens of tiny bamboo huts with corrugated metal roofs, and dirt floors each about 2 meters square.
I was constantly amazed by the flocks of young boys and girls walking to school – each child aged from 6 to 15 years old, I suppose – dressed in immaculate white shirt or blouse and blue shorts or skirts. I never saw a dirty child, and how they could have kept clean clothes while living in those small crude huts was something I never could figure out. Even more amazing, were the genuine, wide smiles and frequent greeting as we passed the children: “bonjour monsieur, bonjour monsieur”.
It brings tears to my eyes even now, thinking about those children. If they were girls, they could look forward to a life expectancy of 48 years, according to the town officials we talked to. If they were boys, they could expect to live to an age of only 40 years. The perils of fishing in the ocean in dugout canoes made life even harder for the men.
The next morning, we arrived at the Astana international airport, to find that the check-in arrangements were quite different from what we were used to. Instead of checking our luggage at a desk and then walking through Security to get to our departure gate, everyone was expected to wheel their luggage and handbags through security, as the airline check-in desks were located inside.
The mechanics of rustling our luggage weren’t difficult, but as I passed through the check-point, suddenly a strange-sounding alarm went off. As the alarm rang and rang, my mind raced – what did I have in my bag that would trigger the alarm, I wondered? It didn’t help that the Security guards only spoke Russian, and they were dressed in military uniforms with ridiculously large military caps, which made them look imposing (and silly). But what began to worry me more, was that the look on the Security guards’ faces was not the usual one that happens when a piece of metal sets off an alarm. The guards looked frightened and angry, at the same time.
Fortunately for us, the commotion caught the attention of the clerks at the Turkish Airlines desk inside the terminal building, and one English-speaking fellow approached, speaking to the security guards in Russian first, then saying to us: “I speak English, may I help”? Well, he helped, but it took a while, because it turned out that a rarely used hidden nuclear radiation detector had been triggered when I came through the gate, and the guards were concerned that I had some kind of radioactive material in my suitcase.
For a moment my mind went blank, and then I remembered a card that I was carrying in my wallet. I had had a bout of prostate cancer the previous fall, and my brachytherapy treatment had involved inserting over a hundred tiny radioactive pellets in and around my prostate – designed to kill the cancer. The pellets decay naturally in a fairly short time, and by now, 9 or 10 months after my operation, I would have bet that the radioactive material had all decayed to an undetectable level. But my doctor had given me a card to carry, which explained the medical procedure, just for circumstances like this. When I pulled out the card, it was like a “Get out of Jail Free Card” from the Monopoly game. Instantly the guards’ attitudes changed from fear and suspicion, to sympathy and smiles. One of the big fellows wheeled my luggage over to the Turkish Airlines desk where the Good Samaritan clerk reverted back to his normal job of checking us in.

**** end of excerpt ****

Conclusion

It is one thing to briefly visit a remote project as part of a review team. It is another thing to be there as part of a design team trying to solve a problem and engineer a solution. I know of many engineers and geologists that would have similar work life experiences as part of their careers. However John has taken the initiative to write it all down.
The author is available to be contacted on LinkedIn if you have any questions or just want to say hello (at https://www.linkedin.com/in/john-wonnacott-84aa461a/).
The book can be found on Amazon at this link: Roseway: a Life of Adventure.
This is a story from the life of an experienced engineer working in the mining industry.  If you want to read the perspective from a new mining engineer graduate, check out this post “A Junior EIT Mining Story“.   There is no book deal yet here.
If you find stories about working as an engineer of interest, I have written a 2 part blog post on my adventures in the potash industry in Saskatchewan.  You can read that post at this link “Potash Stories from 3000 Feet Down – Part 1
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Games People Play

Are you a board game player?  Personally I am not.  However I understand there is a huge board game community out there. These game enthusiasts meet in small coffee shops and attend large gaming conventions. I read that 35% of Americans say they play board games several times a month. Think about how many board games you may have laying around in your own place, even if you’re not a hard core gamer.
Recently an avid board game player sent me an email asking if I was aware that there several mining related games. That was a surprise to me. Who would create a board game about mining and for what demographic market?
Curiosity took over and I had to check out the links sent to me on the Board Game Geek website. Here’s a few of the games and what they do.   Now that Germany may be moving back into coal, the first three games may come back into fashion.  The 4th game listed is a bit of a head scratcher.

A few of the mining board games

Game 1: Haspelknecht: The Story of Early Coal Mining (2015)
This game is part of a coal-mining game trilogy created by Thomas Spitzer in Germany. The players take the role of farmers with opportunities to exploit the presence of coal in the Ruhr region of Germany. During the game, players acquire knowledge about coal, extend their farms, and dig deeper in the ground to extract more coal.
Players must select the correct tasks while being mindful of quickly accumulating pit water, for it can stall efforts and prevent extraction of coal.  The game info link is here.
Game 2: The Ruhr: A Story of Coal Trade (2017)
In the second game of Spitzer’s trilogy, you are still in the Ruhr region in the 18th century, at the beginning of the industrial revolution. The Ruhr river presented a transportation route from the coal mines. However, the Ruhr was filled with obstacles and large dams, making it incredibly difficult to navigate.
The players transport and sell coal to cities and factories along the Ruhr river in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the beginning, players have access only to low value coal but can gain access to high value coal. The players also build warehouses, locks, and export coal to neighboring countries in the pursuit of the most points.
The info link is here.
Game 3: Schichtwechsel: Die Förderung liegt in deiner Hand (2021)
This game may still be in German text only. Players are the administrator of a coal mine, and experience competition while living through a piece of Ruhr Valley history.
They bring coal and overburden from underground to the surface, let the miner go through a “shift at the colliery”, produce coke, or build the typical colliery settlements.
The info link is  here.
Game 4: The Cost (2020)
This game takes on a more negative view of the mining industry. It is described as “A bold take on the economics in the brutal industry that is asbestos.” The game players assume the role of a global asbestos company.
Players make their fortune in mining, refining, and shipping. Whoever ends the game with the most money wins. The last part of the description is the gem “When players mine or refine asbestos, they must choose to either maximize profits for short-term gains or sacrifice their hard-won money to minimize deaths, thus sustaining the industry.” That’s every mining executive’s dilemma; profits or deaths.   The info link is here.
Some of these game boards look more complicated than the actual industry. To find other games you can go to the Board Game Geek website and search for different themes. Most mining games listed there are not realistic but are more about dwarves mining gems or they just have an activity called “mining”.   Here’s one called Copper Country.

Free Excel Mining Game

In 1983 my brother, at the age of 10, got his Commodore 64 computer and was eagerly learning to program in BASIC. He was always looking for ideas on what he could write programs about. I had graduated from McGill in Mining Engineering a few years earlier, so I suggested he write a simple computer game about mining as his project.
I provided him with the logic and in no time he had it written and functioning. That game is long gone, likely at the bottom of a landfill stored inside the chips of his Commodore 64. Some 40 years later, my brother is still coding as a software development manager. I guess I managed to convince him the mining industry wasn’t a career path.
Over the last few months I decided to learn VBA (Visual Basic for Applications). VBA is a programming language the works with Microsoft Office products, mainly Excel.
I always enjoyed programming. In university we wrote FORTRAN programs using stacks of punch cards to feed the machine the code. I had also learned the BASIC language, from my brother’s VIC 20 and Commodore computers.
A good way to learn something is to watch a few pf the many tutorial videos on YouTube. An even better way to learn VBA is by taking on an actual coding project from scratch. So, what worked 40 years ago, would work again. Rather than write something useful, I decided to re-write the mining game from 1983, albeit enhanced with the Excel application capability and more years of personal mining experience.
This coding process would force me to learn how to write code, figure out logic, create loops, if-then statements, and handle debugging. Already knowing Excel makes the entire process easier.  Combining Excel functionality with VBA delivers capabilities that would have been difficult to do in BASIC alone.  Note: It appears that BASIC is no longer in use, having been replaced by Python as the preferred programming language.

Download it.. if curious

If you are curious about the capability of VBA, the Excel mining game can be downloaded. A descriptive overview of the game is included in the PDF file at this link.

Junior Mining CEO game screenshot

The very simple game is called Junior Mining CEO. The object is to find gold, raise the share price, and not go bankrupt given the pitfalls that often befall the mining industry. The input parameters have a lot of optionality, although I have protected the macro code itself for this edition. You can borrow money and issue equity to fund your mining activity.
The Excel file can be downloaded at this link. The was written using Excel 365 but it may also work on older versions of Excel.
You will first need to save the game to your computer to run the macros. Since there are macros, many computers will disable such Excel files because they can contain viruses. You may need to toggle the file Properties in File Explorer to unblock the file to allow the macros to run.
Is there a junior mining corporate sponsorship opportunity here? Sure. For a small fee, I will add your company logo to the game and pre-set all the input parameters so that everyone is a big winner all the time.

Conclusion

As mentioned in a blog from a few months ago, “ A Junior EIT Mining Story” some gamification of mining may help introduce and educated people on the industry. Augmented reality (AR) and Virtual reality (VR) are both technologies that can be used to help reach out to the younger generations (I’m not talking about investor outreach).
How about a new board game that does to mining what Monopoly did to real estate investing? Look at real estate prices today, no doubt being influenced by everything we learnt playing Monopoly as kids.
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Clays and Mining – Friends or Foes?

Overburden is a generalized termed used to describe unconsolidated material encountered at a mine.  It can consist of gravels, sands, silts, and clays and combinations of each. Usually overburden is not given much focus in many mining studies. Very often, the overburden as a unit, is not adequately characterized.
This blog will explain why proper characterization can be an important issue,  particularly the clay component.
I also want to share some personal mining experiences with clays, all types of clays.  There is more to them than meets the eye; a fact often not apparent to those involved only in hard rock mining.
Clays have unique geotechnical properties that can make for challenging situations and require special consideration in project design.   Many simply view clay as a sticky cohesive material – no big deal. So let’s examine this a bit further. I tried to avoid geotechnical lingo where possible, since this blog isn’t being written for geotechnical engineers.
There are several types of clays, or clay-like materials that can be encountered in mining. Here are the ones that I have been lucky (or unlucky) enough to have dealt with over the years.
  • Normally consolidated clays
  • Over-consolidated clays
  • Sensitive (or quick) clays
  • Swelling clays
  • Saprolite clays
  • Kimberlite clays (muds)

What are the challenges?

Each of the clays listed above can be found in different locations, have unique properties, will behave differently, and can create specific mining challenges.   Clays can also cause problems in process plant circuits, but that is a subject outside my area of expertise.

Normally consolidated clays

These are the clays most people are familiar with, i.e. a sedimentary deposit of very fine particles that have settled in a calm body of water.   Normally consolidated clays are generally not a problem, other than having a high moisture content.  As such, they can be very sticky in loader buckets, truck boxes, and when feeding crushers.
When wet, they can become sloppy and difficult to handle efficiently.  They can creep and run when placed into waste dumps.  For these reasons, engineers must be aware if a large proportion of the overburden will consist of clays so they can avoid surprises.

Over-consolidated clays

These clays have undergone greater vertical compression in their history than in their current condition.  For example, perhaps they were once pre-loaded and compressed by a mile of glacial ice sheet during an ice age, which has subsequently melted.
Clays in general consist of very fine plate like particles, as shown in this sketch.   In over-consolidated clays, these particles have been flattened and tightly compressed as in the right image.   The result is that the clay may be dense, have a good cross bedding shear strength, but very low shear strength along the plates.  This characteristic is analogous to the lubricating properties of graphite, which is facilitated by sliding along graphite plates.
My experience in working with over-consolidated clays was at the Fort McMurray oil sands mining operations.  In that region the Clearwater clays formed part of the overburden sequence above the oil sands.  Stripping these clays with trucks and shovels was not exceptionally challenging.  They had low moisture content and were stiff.   The challenge really came when needing to build on top of them, for example building a waste dump or tailings dam.
The cross-bedding shear strength was good, with peak friction angles exceeding 25 degrees.  However after any creep or deformation, the peak shear strength was gone and the residual friction angle would now control stability.   The residual friction angles could drop as low as 6 degrees (very weak) and, upon surcharging the clay could maintain high internal pore pressures.   Due to these factors it was not uncommon to see tailings dams or waste dumps with 15:1 (H:V) downstream slopes.  This compares to the 3:1 slopes one may normally see at hard rock mine sites.
Building a 15:1 dam or dump is much less volume efficient than building a 3:1 embankment.  It also doesn’t take much instability to cause an embankment to creep along a foundation with only a 6-degree friction angle.  Hence the over-consolidated clays presented a unique engineering challenge when working in the oil sands.

Sensitive (quick) clays

Referring to the clay particle sketch shown above, quick clays represent a card house structure (on the left image).  These clays were often deposited in a quiet marine environment, where electrical charges prevented the clays from settling uniformly.  Instead, the clay particles tend to stack up like a house of cards.  The large void spaces are filled with water, whereby moisture contents can exceed 100% by weight.
When these clays are disturbed by vibration or movement, the house of cards structure collapses.  Combined with the excess void water, these clays will flow…. and flow a lot.   This video shows a slope failure in quick clays in Norway.  Try to stop that failure once it has initiated.
My experience with sensitive clays was at the former BHP bauxite mining operations along the northern coast of Suriname.   There were Demerara clay channels up to 20m thick over top of many of their open pits.   The bucketwheel excavators used for waste stripping would trigger the quick clay slope failures, sometimes resulting in the crawler tracks being buried and unfortunately also causing some worker fatalities.
I recall walking up towards a bucketwheel digging face as the machine quietly churned away.   About 70 metres from the machine, we would see cracks quietly opening all around us as the ground mass was starting to initiate its flow towards the machine.   Most times the bucketwheel could just sit there and dig.  Instead of the machine having to advance toward the face, the face would advance towards the machine.
To address the safety issue, eventually mine-wide grids of cone penetration tests were used to define the Demerara clay channels.  Dredges were then brought in to remove these channels before allowing the bucketwheels to strip the remaining sands and normally consolidated clays.

Swelling clays

In some locations, mines may contain swelling clays.  The issue with these clays is that they can absorb water rapidly, swell by 30%, and become extremely soft to operate on.  If they form part of the ore zone and find their way to the tailings pond, one may find they don’t want to settle out in the pond. Water clarification and clean water recycle to the plant can become an operational issue.   Mineralogy tests will indicate if one has swelling clays (smectites, montmorillonites, bentonite).  The swelling clays do have a functional use however, discussed later.

Kimberlite clays (muds)

The formation of the diamond deposits in northern Canada often involved the explosive eruption of kimberlite pipes under bodies of water. The lakebed muds and expelled kimberlite by the eruption would collapse back into the crater, resulting in a mix of mud and kimberlite (yellow zones in the image).   This muddy kimberlite could be soft, weak, and difficult to mine with underground methods.
Normally as one descends deeper into the kimberlite pipe,  the harder primary kimberlite dominates over the muddy material.   An upside is that the muddy kimberlite can be scrubbed fairly easily during processing, with the very fine clay particles being washed away.

Clays can’t be all bad?

Encountering clays at a mine site can’t be always negative?  There must be some benefits that clays can provide?   Well there are a few positive aspects.

Saprolite clays 

At many tropical mining operations (west African gold projects for example) the upper bedrock has undergone weathering, resulting in the fresh rock being decomposed into saprolite.  This clay-rich material can exceed 50 metres in thickness, can be fairly soft and diggable without blasting.   This is an obvious mining cost benefit.
As well, grinding circuits can easily deal with saprolite.  For example, if a 1000 tpd grind circuit is designed for the underlying deeper bedrock, it may be able to push through 1400 tpd of saprolite.   This would yield a 40% increase in mill throughput for little added cost.  This will boost early gold production.  However as the blend of saprolite to fresh rock declines over the years as the pit deepens, the plant throughput will decrease to the original design capacity.
One concern with saprolite sometimes is its sticky nature.   A truck load of saprolite ore dumped on a crusher grizzly may just sit there.  Possible some prodding or water flushing may be required to get it moving.  Nevertheless, this is normally an easily resolvable operating issue.

Clay core dams

One of the ways miners build water retention or tailings dams is to use mined waste rock.   The issue with this is that a dam built solely with waste rock will leak like a sieve, which can lead to piping failure.  One solution is to build an internal clay core in the center the dam to act as a seepage barrier.   Having on-site access to good quality clean clay fill is a benefit when such dams are required.   If the clay fill isn’t available at site, then more complex synthetic liners or internal seepage control measure must be instituted.
Compacted clay fill can also be used as a pond liner material for water retention ponds.
One can also purchase rolls of geosynthetic clay liners (GCL), whereby a thin layer of dried swelling clay is encapsulated between two sheets of geotextile.  Once the liner is laid out and re-hydrated with water, the clays swell and will act as an impervious liner.   The installation approach is somewhat simpler than for HDPE liners and such liners can be self-healing if punctured.  A downside is that the transport weight of these GCL liners can be significant.
See, there are some positives with having clay at site.

Conclusion

All clays are not the same.  The mining of clays can create unique challenges for mining engineers and operating personnel.   Whenever I see study happily mention that their open pit mine waste consists of “free digging overburden”, I say to myself “Be careful what you wish for”.
One must ensure that the overburden is properly characterized, even though it may be viewed as an unimportant or uninteresting material.  Determine whether it consists of gravels, sands, silts, tills, or clays, or combinations thereof.   It can make a big difference in how it is mined, disposed of, and whether it can have any secondary uses on site.  In many studies that I have reviewed, the overburden tends to be forgotten and does not get the technical respect it deserves.
Please feel free to share any thoughts on your experience in working with clays.
We had to build mine haul roads across large swamps underlain by soft clays.   One option was to use geo-textiles or swamp vegetation to assist us.  Another option was to place the sand fill hydraulically.  You can read how we did this at the following blog post “Using Pumped Sand to Build Mine Roads“.
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A Junior EIT Mining Story

We know the mining industry is having trouble attracting talent in all sorts of disciplines, including operations, technical, and supervision. Industry people have no shortage of ideas (right or wrong) on how this issue can be addressed in the future. Myself…I don’t really have any good suggestions.
Not long ago I was speaking with a 2020 graduate mining engineer (EIT = Engineer in Training). During our conversation, I was curious to know what attracted him to the industry and if he had any advice on how to reach out to others in his age group. I asked if he was willing to share his thoughts on my blog site. After all, who better to hear from than a recent graduate. He said “yes”, so for your interest, here is his story and his thoughts. (I decided to leave his name out of this article although he was not insisting on anonymity.)

So here’s the story (in his words)

Mining has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Being born in Sudbury, many of my family members have been, or are currently involved, in mining through a variety of occupations, including my father who I idolized. However, I never knew my true interest in the industry until my 11th-grade technology class. I had a teacher who was passionate about the mining industry, and he created a project that involved developing a very basic mine design.
Once I started the project, I realized that I enjoyed the design work, as it requires problem-solving which constantly stimulates the mind. After the conclusion of this project, I started doing my own research to expand my knowledge and realized that the financial side of mining had great interest to me as well. This led me at age 16 to start investing in the mining sector, which I continue to this day.
With this developed interest, and my family’s mining history, the decision to study Mining Engineering at Laurentian University was an easy decision. It allowed me to support my hometown and will allow me, given my career ambitions, to put this small school on the international map.
Before my first year of university, I had a summer job tramming at Macassa Mine in Kirkland Lake Ontario, which has been in production since 1933. My mentality was to get the boots on the ground and get the job done, whatever it took (with proper safety precautions of course). Using rail systems, dumping ore cars manually, jackleg drilling, etc. gave me the perspective that mining was archaic, mining was rough, and mining was only about the ounces.
Therefore, when I started the Mining Engineering program at Laurentian University in 2016, I already had a (somewhat negative) preconceived notion of the mining industry, but as my short career progressed, my opinions morphed into something different, something more positive.
Now that I have graduated and been employed for a couple of years, my perspective has changed. However, I feel that the perspective of the general population has not. People within mining have a (positive) bias and realize its importance in our everyday lives. This is showcased in the famous saying “if it is not grown, it is mined” and I believe that to get the industry to progress at an even faster rate, we need to get everyone on board.
It cannot be an industry that just takes from the Earth, it needs to be seen as one that values sustainability, supplies the world with required goods, and creates jobs with high employee satisfaction. Although this has started with companies taking more of an interest in stakeholder value and employee job satisfaction, based on my limited years in the industry, there is still lots of room for growth.
To change the negative view around mining, I believe the main focal point should be electric equipment and the ability for remote operation/work. With all this newly developed technology at our fingertips, I know that future operations will be safer and more sustainable, which should be better portrayed.
The battery-electric equipment will surely increase employee satisfaction since I know firsthand that one of the worst feelings as a worker is to have a scoop operating in a heading that is already 25+ degrees. It will also create more sustainability since the industry can transition from being reliant almost solely on fossil fuels.
In addition, I believe that remote equipment operation is not being used to its full capacity or explained to the younger generation. Right now, there has been equipment running in Canada that was operated in Australia. What is stopping mines from having equipment operators all over the world in urban office spaces or out of their own homes? I believe that for a company to visit a high school, or even a trades school, to sell the idea that you can operate a massive piece of equipment from the creature comforts of home, almost like a real-life video game, would be quite compelling to this audience.
Even creating a mining simulation video game where you can run through a story of being a manager, excavator/scoop operator, truck driver, etc. would get the thought of mining brought into the coming generations at a younger age. This would increase the talent pool from the more typical operator because more and more youth are getting skilled at remote operation through video games due to their increased screen time.
Not only equipment operators, but technical staff could be made fully, or partially, remote. When I describe my job to my (non-mining) peers, many are interested since mining is a fast-paced, stimulating, and rewarding industry.
But as soon as I describe the remote nature of the work, many young professionals, or high school students, get turned away. Therefore, showing teenagers, through school presentations or workshops, that a technical career in mining can lead you down so many avenues (scheduling, ventilation design, drill & blast, etc.) would pique their interest, but I believe adding the ability to work remote, with some occasional travel, would drive the point home.
InternPeople get comfortable and people are afraid to leave home, so selling a career that allows for boundless flexibility in job tasks and constant stimulation while living wherever you desire could allow a shrinkage in the current technical gap.
Overall, the mining awareness and outreach (approach) is still old school. Getting to youth and teenagers through various media streams could be the key to getting engagement from not only the current mining towns but larger urban centres as well.
I mentioned a mining simulation video game previously, but what is stopping us there. Many of my peers, and youth younger than myself, are entering the professions of doctors, lawyers, finance, or criminal investigators.
I might be wrong, but, intriguingly, these are industries are the base professions glorified on TV. Why not develop more TV shows based on mining? I know that there would be some population interest considering many people ask me if the gold we mine underground looks like what comes out of the pans in Yukon Gold Rush.
So do I think the mining industry is archaic…. not anymore.
Do I think the mining industry is rough… somewhat.
Do I think it is only about the ounces…., yes, since a mine will not run any other way.
However, I believe that there has been more importance placed on employee and stakeholder satisfaction. So, with more time, and more engagement from the public of all ages, I think this industry can have a bright future ahead.
END

Conclusion

Firstly, I would like to thank this engineer for taking time to write out his well formed thoughts, and for allowing me to share them.
Many of the mining people I meet are following along in family footsteps. No surprise there. However, the industry cannot rely on that farm system alone. It should be reaching out to broader society, although that may require some out-of-the-box thinking. People’s attitudes and personalities are different today than they were 20 years ago.  Many different doors are being held open as career options.
The discussion above has some interesting ideas from a person who would be the target of outreach efforts. It likely will take more effort than simply telling people “Hey, your iPhone uses metal, therefore mining is good, and you should work in mining”.
This guest blog post is an industry perspective from the view of a young engineer.  If you interested in the perspective from a seasoned engineer who has worked around the globe, check out the book that is described in this blog post “Life as an Engineer – Read All About It“.
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Resources, Resources, and Mineral Reserves

Every so often I like to comment on issues related to the way the mining industry does things. This is one of those posts.
Currently the mining industry reports their exploration results as either Mineral Resources or Mineral Reserves. In my opinion, these two categories do not adequately reflect the reality of the current mining environment. I would suggest using a three category approach, as will be described below.
The implementation of this approach would not result in any more technical effort. However, it would provide clarity for stakeholders and investors and compare companies on a more equitable basis.

The issue

In today’s world, it is an onerous task to permit, finance, build, and operate a new mine. This is a significant achievement.
An operating company will be generating revenue and should be recognized for that big step. Hence does it make sense for an operating company to report Mineral Reserves while a junior company that has simply completed a pre-feasibility study to also report Mineral Reserves?
Both companies could report identical Reserves, but those reserves would not be the same thing. One company has built a mine while the other may have spent a few months doing a paper study. One company’s reserves will actually be mined in the foreseeable future while the other company’s project may never see the light of day. Yet both companies are allowed to present the same Mineral Reserves.
As a mine operates, the remaining ore reserves will deplete over time. However, a company can add to their reserves by finding satellite ore bodies or converting inferred material into a higher classification. The net of these adjustments will be reflected in the corporate Mineral Reserve Statement for all their operations.
A company can also increase the corporate Mineral Reserves simply by completing a pre-feasibility or feasibility study on a new project. However, is this a true reflection of the Reserves upon which the company should be evaluated?

Suggestion

I would suggest that the three reporting categories be used instead of two, described as follows:
1 – Mineral Resources (insitu): This category is the same as the current Mineral Resources being reported according to NI43-101. It is based on reasonable prospects for economic extraction. Hence open pit resources would be reported within an optimized shell and underground reserves within approximate stope shapes. No external dilution or mining criteria would be applied, as is the current approach.
2 – Economic Resources: This would be a new category that would simply be the outcome from a pre-feasibility or feasibility study, which is currently being labelled a “Mineral Reserve”. This Economic Resource would incorporate mining criteria, Measured & Indicated classes only, a mine plan, and an economic analysis. The differentiation from Reserves is because the mine is not built yet.
3 – Mineral Reserves: This highest-level category could be reported only once a mine has reached commercial production. The Economic Resources would automatically convert to Mineral Reserves once production is achieved. As the mine continues to operate, and as new ore sources are identified, the Mineral Reserves would increase / decrease. The Mineral Reserves would represent the remaining ore tonnage at operating mines and only that.
This three-category approach would help separate mine operators from junior development companies. The industry should recognize the difference between companies and projects at different life-cycle stages and that they are not all directly comparable. A junior explorer could be reporting huge reserves, but without a mine being there, should that company be compared to a mine operator that has similar reserves?
This approach would identify situations whereby a company suddenly reports a sizeable increase in Reserves. Is it because they found more ore at an existing operation (a great event) or because they did a paper study on a new project?
As a clarification, if a mine gets placed onto care & maintenance, likely due to poor economics, then the remaining tonnes at the mine would no longer be considered Mineral Reserves and may have to revert to Economic Resources, although even that would be questionable.

Examples

Out of curiosity I randomly selected three companies (Yamana Gold, Eldorado Gold, Alamos Gold) to compare their total Mineral Reserve tonnages based on their operations versus study stage development projects. The results are show in the images below. The percentage of Reserves provided by their producing (P) mines varied and ranged from 14% to 51%. A significant proportion of their Reserves (49% to 86%) are still at the development (D) stage. One or two large study-stage projects can boost the corporate reserves significantly. This is not immediately evident when looking at the total Mineral Reserves being reported.
For most junior miners 100% of their Reserves are still at the study-stage. They should not be able to declare Mineral Reserves and appear on an equal footing with mine operators. Their company should only be comparable to other companies with advanced study-stage projects.

Conclusion

The foregoing discussion is a suggestion as to how the mining industry can recognize the achievement and economic reality of building a mine, i.e. by being allowed to report Mineral Reserves. All others only get to report Resources. This would help clarify what long term tonnages are actually being mined versus simply being studied on paper.
The suggested approach does not create additional work for the mining companies. However, it provides a much fairer and transparent comparison between companies.
Interestingly, NI43-101 specifies that one cannot mathematically add together Indicated and Inferred resources because they are view as materially different. However, in a corporate Mineral Reserve Statement one is allowed to combine Reserves at an operating mine with Reserves from a study.  These two reserves, in my view, are even more materially different than Indicated and Inferred resources are.
Its great for a company to report Mineral Reserves from a pre-feasibility study.  However if for some reason that mine never gets built, then those Reserves are valueless. Maybe years ago it was foregone conclusion that a positive feasibility study would result in the construction of a mine, so the risk was less. That is no longer the case and this fact should be recognized when defining and reporting Mineral Reserves.
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Hard Rock Continuous Cutting – Reducing Drill & Blast

Several years ago I worked in the Saskatchewan potash industry where I grew my appreciation for continuous mining systems. Some of the key benefits were the high productivity per man-hour and the safe operating conditions.  On a 12 hour nightshift, with a crew of 16 people we could mine over 9,000 tonnes of ore.  Productivity is  likely even higher now with the larger machines.   Therefore, since that time, I have always kept an eye out for when similar technology can be applied in hard rock mining.
One of the research areas we are seeing these days is the development of continuous cutting technology for hard rock mine development.  The idea is to replace the conventional drill & blast approach with something more efficient and safer.  No need to deal with explosives, noxious gases, shatter the wall rock, or have personnel scale their way under loose conditions.
Recently I was contacted by someone associated with Robbins asking if I was aware of their MDM5000 mine development technology.  I wasn’t aware of it, but I wondered if there finally is a light at the end of the tunnel.

4-rotor miner

In Saskatchewan potash the entire mining operation relies on track-mounted continuous miner technology.   The miners are connected directly to the shaft area using a network of conveyors, up to 10 km worth of conveyor.
The potash miners are able to undertake both development work and production mining whilst connected to conveyor.
From time to time they will rely on shuttle cars, scooptrams, or grasshopper conveyors for small development tasks. A roadheader may also be available for localized ground stabilization.
All of this mechanical cutting is done in potash (sylvinite rock), considered a soft rock with a compressive strength of 20-40 MPa. For comparison, hard rock can have compressive strengths exceeding 250 MPa.

Two approaches in hard rock

Hard rock piloting trials are underway at a few operations, using different vendors with different equipment.  These trials include companies like Komatsu, Robbins, Sandvik, and Epiroc.  Each are testing their own equipment and cutting technologies.
The hard rock cutting approaches generally fall into two camps.

Roadheader style

There are the track mounted roadheader style cutters, typically with a movable arm used to shape the excavation.  Any excavation shape is possible.

Tunnel Borer Style

Then there are the tunnel borer styles, where the machine propels itself with hydraulic shoes and the opening shape is based on the machine configuration. Normally a circular shaped opening is the result.
The roadheader style cutter is normally restricted to softer rock (< 50 MPa) while the tunnel borer is capable of much harder rock (200-250 MPa).

Robbins MDM5000

One system that peaked my interest is the Robbins MDM5000 because it can both cut hard rock and create a rectangular opening. Speaking with the vendor, this unit uses shoes to propel itself while cutting a rectangular shaped opening about 5m x 4.5m in size (see image).  A rectangular shape is preferred to the circular opening whereby the floor invert must be backfilled to provide a level operating surface.

MDM5000 opening shape

The MDM5000 configuration and advance rate allows the installation of ground support and utilities behind the advancing face.   Water sprays and dust collectors help to maintain visibility and air quality at the working face.
The Robbins unit is best suited for long straight drives although reportedly it can turn curves with 450-m radius.  Tighter turns may be feasibility in the future by tweaking the machine design.   Interestingly driving a drift uphill is easier than driving downhill due to the more efficient cuttings removal capability.
The MDM5000 unit can be linked to a Robbins conveyor system, which includes a head drive and an extensible belt storage unit that can feed out the conveyor belt as the machine advances forward.  This operation is similar to that used in the Saskatchewan potash industry.

Robbins MDM5000

A Robbins machine has been in operation at the Fresnillo mine for several years with favorable results (check out the link here).
One nice thing about disc cutters is that they can accommodate variable rock types (softer and harder) while road headers can be hindered by hard rock zones.  Roadheaders require a bit more consistency in rock quality.
Continuous cutting systems, such as the MDM5000, can be combined with vertical conveying technology, leading to safe and rapid development (>200m per month) in the right situation.

Conclusion

No doubt that we will eventually see more application of hard rock continuous cutting technology in the right situations.  The Stillwater Mine in Montana has been using a Robbins tunnel borer for years for development tasks.
No matter how well these new systems perform, there will still be some limitations.  This means the conventional drill and blast development will always be around.  However, keep your eyes on this mining technology sector as improvements in cutter head design and equipment mobility continue to evolve.
Coincidentally International Mining (Nov-Dec 2021) recently published an in-depth article on the various systems being looked at.  The link is here.

 

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Let A.I. Help Target Your Infill Drilling

From time to time I come across interesting new tech that I like to share with colleagues.  The topic of this blog relates to solving the problem of defining an optimal infill drill program.
In the past I have worked on some PEA’s whose economics were largely based on Inferred ore.  The company wanted to advance to the Pre-Feasibility (PFS) stage. However, before the PFS could start they would need additional drilling to convert much of the Inferred resource into Measured and Indicated resources.
I’ve seen similar experience with projects that are advance from PFS to FS where management has a requirement that the ore mined during the payback period consist of Measured classification.

The Problem

In both cases described above, it is necessary for someone to outline an infill drill program to upgrade the resource classification while also meeting other project priorities.  The goal is to design an infill drill program with minimal time and cost yet maximize resource conversion.  Possibly some resource expansion drilling, metallurgical sampling, and geotechnical investigations may be required at the same time.
I’m not certain how various resource geologists go about designing an infill drill plan.  However, I have seen instances where dummy holes were inserted into the block model and then the classification algorithm was re-run to determine the new block model tonnage classification.   If it didn’t meet the corporate objectives, then the dummy holes may be moved or new ones added, and the process repeated.
One would not consider such a trial & error solution as optimal. It may not necessarily meet the cost and time objectives although it may meet the resource conversion goals.

The Solution

The DRX Drill Hole and Reporting algorithm developed by Objectivity.ca uses artificial intelligence to optimize the infill drilling layout.  It intends to match the QP/CP constraints with corporate/project objectives.
For example, does company management require 70% of the resource in M&I classifications or do they require 90% in M&I?  Each goal can be achieved with a different drill plan.
The following description of DRX is based on discussions with the Objectivity staff as well as a review of some case studies.  The company is willing to share these studies if you contact them.
The DRX algorithm relies on the resource classification criteria specified by the company QP.  For example, the criteria could be something like “For a block to qualify as Measured, the average distance to the nearest three drill holes must be 30 m or less of the block centroid. For a block to qualify as Indicated, the average distance from the block centroid to the nearest three holes must be 50 m or less. For a block to qualify as Inferred it will generally be within 100 m laterally and 50 m vertically of a single drill hole.
The DRX algorithm will use these criteria to optimize drill hole placement three dimensionally to deliver the biggest bang for the buck.   Whatever the corporate objective, DRX will attempt to find an optimal layout to achieve it.  The idea being that fewer well targeted holes may deliver a better value than a large manually developed drill program.
The DRX outcome will prioritize the hole drilling sequence in case the drill program gets cut short due to poor weather, lack of funding, or the arrival of the PDAC news cycle.
The DRX approach can also be used to optimally site metallurgical holes and/or geotechnical holes in combination with resource drilling if there are defined criteria that must be met (by location, ore type, rock type, etc.).   The algorithm will rely on rules and search criteria developed by experts in those disciplines.  It does not develop the rules, it only applies them.
DRX can also help optimize step-out drilling, such that the step-out distance will not be beyond the range that negates the use of the hole in a resource estimate.  It can also consider geological structure in defining drill targets.

By optimizing the number of drill holes and their orientation, the company may see savings in drill pad prep, drilling costs, field support costs, and sample assaying.
One can even request drilling multiple holes from the same drill pad to minimize drill relocation costs and safety issues in difficult terrain.
A large benefit of DRX is to be able to examine what-ifs.  For example, one may desire 85% of the resource to be M&I.   However, if one is willing to accept 80%, then one may be able to save multiple holes and associated costs.   Perhaps with the addition of just a few extra holes one could get to 90% M&I.   These are optimizations that can be evaluated with DRX.

An Example

In the one case study provided to me, a $758,000 manually developed drill program would convert 96.6% of the Inferred resource to Indicated.  DMX suggested that they could achieve 96.7% for $465,000. Alternatively they could achieve 94% conversion for $210,000.  These are large reductions in drilling cost for small reductions in conversion rate.  This may allow the drill-metres saved to be used for other purposes.
For that same project, a subsequent study was done to convert Indicated to Measured in a starter pit area. DRX concluded that a 5000-metre program could convert 62% of Indicated into Measured.  A 12,000-metre program would convert 86%,  A 16,000-metre program would achieve 92%.
So now company management can make an informed decision on either how much money they wish to spend or how much Measure Resource they want to have.

Conclusion

Although I have not yet worked with DRX, I can see the value in it.   I look forward to one day applying it on a project I’m involved with to develop a better understanding of what goes in and what comes out.   DRX hopes to become to resource drilling what Whittle has become to pit design – an industry standard.
The use of the DRX algorithm may help mitigate situations where, moving from a PEA to PFS, one finds that the infill program did not deliver as hoped on the resource conversion.  Unfortunately, this leaves the PFS with less mineable ore than anticipated and sub-optimal economics.
New tech is continually being developed in the mining industry.  Hopefully this is one we continue to see forward advancement. It makes sense to me and DRX could be another tool in the geologist toolbox.  Check out their website at objectivity.ca
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Mining Financial Modeling – Make it Better!

In my view one thing lacking in the mining industry today is a consistent approach to quantifying and presenting the risks associated with mining projects. In a blog written in 2015 titled “Mining Cashflow Sensitivity Analyses – Be Careful” I discussed the limitations of the standard “spider graph” sensitivity analysis  often seen in Section 22 of 43-101 reports.
This blog post expands on that discussion by describing a better approach. A six-year time gap between the two articles – no need to rush I guess.
This blog summarizes excerpts from an article written by a colleague that specializes in probabilistic financial analysis. That article is a result of conversations we had about the current methods of addressing risk in mining. The full article can be found at this link, however selected excerpts and graphs have been reprinted here with permission from the author.
The author is Lachlan Hughson, the Founder of 4-D Resources Advisory LLC. He has a 30-year career in the mining/metals and oil gas industry as an investment banker and a corporate executive. His website is here 4-D Resources Advisory LLC.

Excerpts from the article

Mining can be risky

“The natural resources industry, especially the finance function, tends to use a static, or single data estimate, approach to its planning, valuation and M&A models. This often fails to capture the dynamic interrelationships between the strategic, operational and financial variables of the business, especially commodity price volatility, over time.”
“A comprehensive financial model should correctly reflect the dynamic interplay of these fundamental variables over the company life and commodity price cycles. This requires enhancing the quality of key input variables and quantitatively defining how they interrelate and change depending on the strategy, operational focus and capital structure utilized by the company.”
“Given these critical limitations, a static modeling approach fundamentally reduces the decision making power of the results generated leading to unbalanced views as to the actual probabilities associated with expected outcomes. Equally, it creates an over-confident belief as to outcomes and eliminates the potential optionality of different courses of action as real options cannot be fully evaluated.”

Monte Carlo can be risky

“Fortunately, there is another financial modeling method – using Monte Carlo simulation – which generates more meaningful output data to enhance the company’s decision making process.”
Monte Carlo simulation is not new.  For example  @RISK has been available as an easy to use Excel add-in for decades. Crystal Ball does much the same thing.
“Dynamic, or probabilistic, modeling allows for far greater flexibility of input variables and their correlation, so they better reflect the operating reality, while generating an output which provides more insight than single data estimates of the output variable.”
“The dynamic approach gives the user an understanding of the likely output range (presented as a normal distribution here) and the probabilities associated with a particular output value. The static approach is relatively “random” as it is based on input assumptions that are often subject to biases and a poor understanding of their potential range vs. reality (i.e. +/- 10%, 20% vs. historical or projected data range).”
“In the case of a dynamic model, there is less scope for the biases (compensation, optionality, historic perspective, desire for optimal transaction outcome) that often impact the static, single data estimates modeling process. Additionally, it imposes a fiscal discipline on management as there is less scope to manipulate input data for desired outcomes (i.e. strategic misrepresentation), especially where strong correlations to historical data exist.”
“It encourages management to consider the likely range of outcomes, and probabilities and options, rather than being bound to/driven by achieving a specific outcome with no known probability. Equally, it introduces an “option” mindset to recognize and value real options as a key way to maintain/enhance company momentum over time.”

Image from the 4-D Resources article

“In the simple example (to the right), the financial model was more real-world through using input variables and correlation assumptions that reflect historical and projected reality rather than single data estimates that tend towards the most expected value.”
“Additionally, the output data provide greater insight into the variability of outcomes than the static model Downside, Base and Upside cases’ single data estimates did.”
The tornado diagram, shown below the histogram, essentially is another representation of the spider diagram information. ie.e which factors have the biggest impact.
“The dynamic data also facilitated the real option value of the asset in a manner a static model cannot. And the model took less time to build, with less internal relationships to create to make the output trustworthy, given input variables and correlation were set using the @RISK software options. This dynamic modeling approach can be used for all types of financial models.”
To read the full article, follow this link.

Conclusion

image from 4-D Resources article

Improvements are needed in the way risks are evaluated and explained to mining stakeholders. Improvements are required given increasing complexity in the risks impacting on decision making.
The probabilistic risk evaluation approach described above isn’t new and isn’t that complicated. In fact, it can be very intuitive when undertaken properly.
Probabilistic risk analysis isn’t something that should only be done within the inner sanctums of large mining companies. The approach should filter down to all mining studies and 43-101 reports.
It should ultimately become a best practice or standard part of all mining project economic analyses. The more often the approach is applied, the sooner people will become familiar (and comfortable) with it.
Mining projects can be risky, as demonstrated by the numerous ventures that have derailed. Yet recognition of this risk never seems to be brought to light beforehand.
Essentially all mining projects look the same to outsiders from a risk perspective, when in reality they are not. The mining industry should try to get better in explaining this.
Management understandably have a difficult task in making go/no-go decisions. Financial institutions have similar dilemmas when deciding on whether or not to finance a project.   You can read that blog post at this link “Flawed Mining Projects – No Such Thing as Perfection
UPDATE:  For those interesting in this subject, there is a follow up article by the same author published in January 2022 titled “Using Dynamic Financial Modeling to Enhance Insights from Financial Reports!“.
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