Geo Week News

May 25, 2012

New laser scanner for mining applications


How big is that stope? Geosight can tell you.

OSHAWA, Ontario, Canada – In the mining industry, they call them stopes: underground cavities created by the removal of ore from the surrounding rock. Stoping is often done with explosives, which, as you might imagine, can create some unstable areas that might not be fit for human habitation.

“It’s a dangerous area,” said John Lupton, president of new laser scanner manufacturer Geosight. “It’s an area they can’t get into because they’re risking their lives.”

Of course, though, they need to know how much ore they’ve extracted, whether more remains, and just how big that cavity is that they’ve created. What to do?

Lupton had worked in the mining industry for about 15 years and saw the need for an underground scanner, which led him to begin contacting laser and software experts roughly five years ago to begin R&D. Then, about 15 months ago, production began on the MINEi, a 7.2 kg, 15 cm in diameter x 72 cm long laser scanner that can collect 55,800 points per scan with 2 cm range accuracy and resolution of 1 mm, with range up to 500 meters.

It’s rare that a cavity would be that large, but Lupton said he needed a laser at least that powerful “to penetrate the fog and dust and vapors” likely to be found underground.

Plus, it’s fully wireless, with WiFi transmission of the data it’s collecting, an on-board battery good for a full day of scanning, and at least IP67 rating for waterproof and dust-resistance. “We’re going for submersible,” Lupton said, “but we haven’t got that stamp yet.”

“It’s the simplest data you’ve ever had in 3D,” Lupton said of the output. “It’s idiot proof.” You can simply take the 4MB DXF it exports and import that into AutoCAD or whatever mining software you might be using, and because the device can geo-reference itself using 2- or 3-point resection, the model ought to fit snugly into the mine model you’re already working with. The MINEi also can export a raw point cloud (“we haven’t had anyone using that yet”) or intensity (no one’s using that either).

Thus far, Geosight has sold 16 of the systems and production is in place to deliver a new unit on spec in four to six weeks. Clients already include Cayeli Bakir Inmet, Podolsky Mine, Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting Co., Olympic Dam, and Wesdome-Eagle, among others.

The stopes “start caving in and they have no idea how much is coming in, or where it’s coming from,” Lupton said of the problem he’s solving. “And they have guys working on levels above and doing geology and meanwhile this ground below them is slowly caving in and they’ve got no idea. Now they just stick in the scanner, it’s all referenced in local space, they throw it into a computer, and they say, ‘Hey, we better shut this off!’”

Should they need to get the scanner into a very deep hole – too far for WiFi – the device also has an RS422 port so that it can transmit data via cable as far as 5,000 feet.

Finally, the MINEi has been designed so the operators, themselves, can calibrate it. “These mines are in the most remote places on earth,” Lupton said. “If they get knocked or whacked, we made sure the users don’t have to send it back to us.”

That’s fairly important: “They’re miners,” Lupton joked. “They’ve got gnarly hands, and they’re rough on equipment.”

It may very well be, too, that the MINEi will quickly pay for itself, and not just because of its safety features. “I’ve been in sites where we’ve done a scan in a gold mine, and it determined that they left a million dollars worth of ore in the corner. They thought it was ready to back fill in, and then they saw they had more left in there … We can feature it as a safety tool, but bottom line is that it makes money.”

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