Currently, in mines where backfill is placed underground, it is common for a backfill recipe to be selected from a predetermined list, derived typically to satisfy the most hydraulically demanding scenario. This can however lead to a higher than optimal amount of cement being used at locations other than which the recipe was originally modelled.
For this reason, Paterson & Cooke had the idea to develop an innovative and dynamic hydraulic modelling tool that will allow mining companies to access a digital platform and optimise the backfill recipes for each individual backfilling location in the mine, on a daily basis.
The innovation has the potential to offer significant efficiency improvements to the customer through a reduction in cement usage, which is typically one of the largest costs associated with mine backfilling, a reduction in energy costs (if the mine isn’t pumping the optimum recipe underground) and the optimization of water use. The company also recognises that cement manufacture gives rise to substantial CO2 emissions, and so a reduction in consumption also allows the client to reduce their carbon footprint.
“It’s a much more scientific approach, designing the backfill specification for each stope within a mine rather than a one size fits all approach, as the current process typically is”, explains Dr. Geoff Adderley, Senior Engineer at Paterson & Cooke.
This type of platform doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world and Paterson & Cooke hope to provide their clients with a useful resource that could lead to multiple efficiencies and financial savings.
A prototype was built internally by Paterson & Cooke who approached ATI2 looking to use an external developer to help them turn their application into a customer-ready solution. Working with their ATI2 Business Innovation Advisor, Rachel Roach, they began to scope out the innovation project.
“Working with Rachel has been amazing. She’s always available to answer our queries, provide sound advice and isn’t afraid to take the time to provide the feedback we need to help develop it”, says Dr. Geoff Adderley.
He continues to talk about what it’s like to collaborate with the ATI2 programme:
“It was invaluable discussing our initial ideas and we worked heavily with Rachel and also with John Hutchings [ATI2 Innovation Fund Manager] during the development; it was great to receive feedback on our plans and areas that we may need to look into in more detail, including associated business models and commercial planning.”
ATI2 were also able to assist the business throughout the tendering process, which was a great help says Dr. Geoff Adderley:
“They were there when we wanted to be able to discuss things. We were able to have meetings when we needed them. That support was invaluable. That close contact and just being able to get on the phone and talk to the team if we needed to query some points through the tendering process – it was great!”
In addition to the innovation advice, guidance and support offered through the programme, Paterson & Cooke were awarded a grant from the ATI2 Innovation Fund, which contributed towards the external developer costs to build the final platform.
“To put it bluntly, we wouldn’t have been able to develop this project without the assistance from ATI2. It’s a new area for us, it’s outside our current core practice, in the sense of developing this new model, and with the financial support through ATI2 we’ve been able to actually undertake the development. The match funding that we have received has been great and it’s a project that wouldn’t have gone ahead without it”, says Dr. Geoff Adderley.
Paterson & Cooke is in the closing stages of development, and the project is still ongoing. They hope to begin testing the software in-house (in September 2021) before rolling it out to several customers, who are very interested in trialling the unique service that they will soon be able to offer.
Once testing is completed, the software they’ve developed will be made available to clients on a “Software as a Service” basis with a subscription sales model. This differs from their traditional services, which are sold on a consultancy or project-by-project basis, and creates an opportunity for a more engaged and integrated relationship with its clients.
Dr. Geoff Adderley explains: “We could see areas where we could help to improve efficiencies for our customers and we wanted to find a way that we could provide a service to the customer continuously, not just within the hours we are working in, to add value in the long-term for them and not just rely on us coming and doing specific projects. This is something that could benefit them 24/7”.
The Paterson & Cooke Dynamic Hydraulic Model provides other exciting opportunities for the business to continue to develop their software service, and further increase efficiencies within the mining backfill process. Future innovation could include introducing other technical solutions, such as real-time sensors within a mine which could automatically alert the software to update or adjust the backfill specification. This is a long way off, but nonetheless, an ambitious idea demonstrating how innovation is a continuous process and never really stops – we wish them every success.
Image above of Paterson & Cooke’s Dynamic Hydraulic Modelling Software.