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Big miner targets 30% productivity lift
from drill tech
Heavyweight acceptance of ‘smart’ drilling data management technology is a win for ASXlisted Imdex business unit, Reflex. More encouragingly, though, the high-level market
breakthrough seems part of a broader shift by miners and drillers to turn talk about boosting
productivity into actions in an environment in which budgets remain constrained.
Staff reporter – Mining Journal - 12 May 2015
Imdex unit Reflex has expanded its pipeline of potential Reflex HUB users
Reflex has supplied central Queensland coal miner BMA (BHP Billiton-Mitsubishi Alliance) and
several of its contractors with its electronic reporting and cloud-based analytics products,
facilitating a move away from manual in-field data entry and the industry’s standard paper and
spreadsheet led management approach.
Reflex is the drilling technology arm of Imdex, a company with a current market capitalisation
of about A$72 million (US$57.5 million). It acquired mining cloud-based data management
company ioGlobal in 2012 for A$8 million, extending its reach beyond downhole
instrumentation, and has since worked with a mobile mineral-analysis device group on
enhanced at-rig sampling systems.
BMA and its contractors are using Reflex’s electronic in-field data collection, with customised
daily activity report forms, a ‘Schedule of Rates’ (SoR) software module designed to track
drilling expenditure and reconcile with contractor invoices, and a new ‘Production Planning’
tool – developed for BMA – into which 90-day SRF data is added. BMA says this enables it to
track project activity against defined budgets and timing.
One of its senior site personnel said: “We have real time visibility on invoice information. It is a
far more efficient way of managing our costs and forecasts.”
The Reflex HUB delivers data collection, sharing and interrogation via a cloud platform. Most of
the service is being delivered via a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model.
The technology shift delivers a range of benefits to both the resource owner, in this case one of
the world’s biggest coal miners, and contractors, with many of the gains to be expected from
such a fundamental change in operating approach. Real efficiency and cost improvements
linked to automated workflows (data entry, reporting and the like) and “data-driven” decisionmaking, coupled with continuous drilling-metric visibility, all made good sense to BMA.
“The Reflex solution for BMA is a real productivity improvement enabler for our exploration
drilling rigs,” said the company’s resource geology and reporting manager, Doug Dunn. “Our
target is to get an extra 30% production out of the rigs [and] this is an enabler with which to do
this.”
The underlying ‘enablers’ seem likely to become more pervasive in the industry.
Certainly, that’s what Michelle Carey would like to see.
“We have over 20 groups globally using this product now,” said Reflex’s global project manager
– data solutions.
“They’re a mixture of resource companies using a … BMA-type model – running the system out
over a fleet of different drilling contractors – and also large and small drilling contractors who
are using the system themselves, and other resource companies.
“So I’d say we’re getting traction from the bottom of the market to the top. I think we’re
comfortable to say that our current client base is over 20 companies, and our pipeline is more
than twice that. We’re rolling it out with a large resource company in the US at the moment,
and they’ve got 4-5 contractors on site. They include some of the largest drilling contractors in
the US, which leads to them then taking up trials, which they then take next door to one of the
other largest resource companies operating in the area, etc. And that’s the sort of interweaving
of companies that can occur, which can drive organic growth.
“We’re really starting to move into an exponential growth phase at the moment.”
Peter Scherpe, project manager implementations with Reflex, said the use of the SaaS
deployment model meant customers were not facing onerous investments in software and
hardware, nor were they and Reflex having to invest heavily in training people. Rapid returns
were therefore being seen, making the case for newer product offerings such as the Schedule
of Rates module clearer.
Carey said while the mining industry had in the past been slow to adopt new technology – even
where such technology was proven to be effective in other markets – pressures on operators
and contractors to be more innovative and work harder at real productivity improvements
were turning the tide.
“A lot of front-end data collection … is very much taking an existing technology and putting it in
the hands of our conservative industry,” she said.
“Where I think we are much closer to the cutting edge is our back-end. We sit up in the cloud,
and work to do real-time analytics. That is very much at that bleeding edge of data mining and
business intelligence.
“We’re actually not finding much resistance on the basis of the slowness of the industry *to
adopt technology] any more. People get this. The industry is trying to cut costs but it also now
wants to save money and improve efficiency.
“Probably the biggest blockers have been people thinking they can do it themselves, but they
have realised that they can’t because of the back-end reporting analytics – taking the data and
turning it into intelligence. They really can’t do it themselves.
“The flipside to this is we offer this as a SaaS-type product, so although we’re delivering them a
solution we’re not making them pay out to us all the time to keep it maintained. We hand over
control to them.”
Reflex is investing with others in projects aiming to deliver advances in high-quality at-rig
sample analysis and real-time reporting on everything from rock strength and mineralogy, to
drill-rig performance, for both exploration and production drilling.
“This *BMA deployment+ is just one piece of the puzzle for us,” Carey said.
“We look at all of the information that’s being generated on a drill site as something that we
can take and wrap this sort of solution around, in terms of the real-time data transfer,
validation [of data], centralised reporting and analytics. The more of these data streams you
have in the same place, the better. It’s a more than the sum of the parts type thing.
“If you’re able to use survey data, and real-time drilling information, in conjunction with assay
data that’s been collected via lab-at-rig, you can start doing some quite clever analytics.”