The “prehistoric” analog tools of my college days
When I graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in geology over 30 years ago, everything was done manually, with pen and paper, coloured pencils, protractors, HP-10C RPN calculators, hand lenses, Brunton compasses and microscopes.
Software for geologists barely existed. Hell, Lotus 1-2-3, floppy drives (the big 5 1/4″ ones), and the IBM PC-XT weren’t even around yet. If you wanted to use compute power back then, you had to log into the campus mainframe from a TTY terminal and run some cryptic Fortran or Basic code.
Then came personal computers, and shortly thereafter standalone dedicated software. You know, the kind of software that came on big floppy disks that you installed on a PC? That changed everything; a whole cottage industry of specialised software spanning the next two decades.
And then the internet happened, and with it eventually came cloud computing. If you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ve had to learn new tools or else get left behind, because all those young geologists that are just now graduating from college grew up in a connected software world, smartphone in hand.
Cloud computing is here to stay
Most modern software – even in the mining industry – is either powered by cloud technology or is in the process of being rewritten to run in the cloud. On-premise software is (mostly) on the way out for a number of reasons including cost, complexity, resources needed to maintain your own infrastructure, networking challenges, and more.
While some entities, citing security reasons, still swear by on-premise solutions, the writing is clearly on the wall. Even Wired Magazine predicted this back in 2012.
It’s time to embrace cloud computing and everything that comes with it, including integrations between multiple software tools, data sharing, and even machine learning.
Our top five list had to meet the following criteria:
- Best-in-class within the software’s primary focus.
- Focused on solving a particular mining problem or task;
- Cloud support;
- Includes open application programme interfaces (APIs), with easy pathways to integrate with other modern tools;
- Has a respectable and growing user base; and
- Best-in-class within the software’s primary focus.
Our Top 5 list
Among the most widely used and important software tools in the mining industry is Leapfrog, a 3-D geological modelling software suite. Although many of Leapfrog’s products are desktop-based, there is a strong cloud-based component that continues to extend, including:
- auditable environment; and
- Leapfrog Central: Visualise, track and manage geological data from a centralised,
- Leapfrog View: Share and view scene files exported from Leapfrog modelling products.
With Leapfrog, you can build 3-D geological models from various datasets, including drill-hole data, structural data, points, polylines and meshes. It includes an interpolation engine that can interpolate values in between drill holes spatially, with intuitive visualisation tools to aid you in analysing your data, including 3-D scenes and block models.
Once you build a model, you can easily share it with the cloud tools – you can even annotate scenes, and export movies and static images and cross sections.
ArcGIS has been around a long time, and most geologists and geoscientists know about and have used their on-premise solution. ESRI, the maker of ArcGIS, has finally released a robust version online that is a worthy replacement to its bulky legacy product. It includes 3-D location data, robust data analysis tools, and all the collaboration and integration capabilities that come with cloud-based solutions.
While there are plenty of other modern mapping tools (and more coming each year), ArcGIS Online still takes the cake and is hard to beat.
With ArcGIS Online, you can make maps, share and collaborate with them, and analyse data, all inside a browser with no need to download anything. You can also expand its use with other ESRI tools, including the Field Mobility apps.
3. MX Deposit
In 2017, Geosoft and Minalytix entered a business partnership to release MX Deposit, a cloud-based solution for drill hole and sample data management. The software simplifies how drilling data is collected, managed and shared.
As with any cloud-based solution, drill-hole data can be logged and accessed from anywhere in the world. It also includes a mobile data-entry application for more efficient data collection in the field.
4. IMDEX Hub
Formerly named ReflexHub-IQ, ImdexHub-IQ provides secure access to validated field data which is transmitted from a range of sub-surface instrumentation, analytical instruments and mobile form data inputs. You can even view drill-hole data in live, 3-D mode, as it is being collected and synced with ImdexHub-IQ.
Imago is a platform to extract knowledge from geoscientific imagery. It can be used to consolidate images from any source, transform them into meaningful insights and then connect them to the appropriate geological or mining activity.
In plain English, you can capture images of drill core, reverse circulation chips, and other datasets, add metadata to each (such as borehole number, depth, etc), and connect them to your geologic modelling software. One of its automations crops and splits drill-core boxes into seamless down-hole images of a borehole, providing you with a tool to quickly zoom in and out of a particular depth at the speed of Google Maps.
It’s open APIs and existing integrations with the other products mentioned on this list, along with its quick growth and forward movement into machine-learning prediction and AI makes it a platform to watch in 2019 and beyond.
Pick and choose
Give ALL of the tools mentioned in this article a try, they are all important for the modern mining geoscientist… definitely more so than the coloured pencils and protractors that I grew up with. And especially if you are just graduating from college, because the odds are good that your mining industry employer already uses one or more of these tools on a regular basis.
Jim Young is the co-founder of various firms, including Terraine Inc, an environmental consulting firm, and XForms LLC, a new cloud-based generic forms software platform. He graduated from Duke University with a masters degree in environmental management, from the University of South Carolina with a masters in international business studies, and from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s degree in geology. He is also registered as a professional geologist in North Carolina.