May 2013 | Mining University

3D Printing - Allied Nevada's Hycroft Gold Mine

Allied Nevada's Hycroft Gold Mine
Allied Nevada's Hycroft Gold Mine
I'm so excited. My first 3d print job is at the printers as we speak. For my first project I chose to do a topography of the Hycroft gold mine. The topo is just under three cubic inches of plastic and will take about 10 hours to print. The project is currently underway at the DeLaMare Library at the University of Nevada Reno.

I first learned about the 3d printer a couple of weeks ago as part of a whimsical search to see if there were any publicly accessible 3d printers in my area. I was shocked to learn that UNR was the first public library to purchase a 3d printer for general use. How convenient that this should be right in my back yard.

I chose the final topo from the Hycroft mine as my first project because I already had a complete triangulation. I didn't want to spend a lot of time creating a project just to test the printing only to find out that I couldn't get it in the right format to print.

It took a while to figure out how to put this in the right format to print. The big problem was that the Maptek Vulcan software isn't capable of exporting to the stl file format. Eventually, I found a program that will convert from vrml format (a format that Vulcan will export to) to stl format.

Once I had done that, I realized that my shape was too big to print. I already knew that I had to fit my topo to the 8x8 inch pad but my initial design was almost 15 cubic inches in volume. At $7.50 per cubic inch this was going to cost me more than $100. This was not in my budget.

In order to minimize cost, I spent a lot of time creating walls and a base for the model. This reduced the total volume to a little less than 3 cubic inches and put the cost at a more manageable $20.

I'm so excited to see the finished product I can hardly wait. The only problem is, I delivered the project at noon on Friday. The project will take about 10 hours to print and the library closes at 5 pm. The library is closed over the weekend and I am going on vacation next week. I will have to wait a week and a half to see my finished work. How sad.

Nevada Mining Tax

There’s been a big push in Nevada recently to increase the tax on mining. An article in Bloomberg Businessweek highlights some of the details. Basically, what is happening is the state is trying to replace the lost gambling revenue by doubling the taxes paid by the mining industry.

In Nevada there is no state income tax. In the past the mountains of money the state collected from gambling was sufficient to cover expenses and therefore there was no need for a state tax. When the economy tanked in 2008 all that nice gaming money went away and Nevada has been in dire straits ever since.

Frankly, I’m shocked that the gaming industry allowed the state to saddle them with paying so much in taxes and fees. In Nevada, the big casinos are the main industry. If they had wanted to throw their weight around and get some changes to the state tax laws it probably would have happened. The fact that the casinos were okay with single-handedly supporting the state implies that there was an enormous amount of money being made.

Now that revenue from gaming is down, state officials are on the lookout for an industry as profitable and 'evil' as gambling and they think they have found it: mining.

To state lawmakers, the mining industry is run by corrupt corporations in the far north regions of the state where nobody matters anyway. They refuse to recognize mining as a proud heritage of many Nevadans. Mining is providing jobs and revenue at a time when not much else is going well for the state. Rather than praise mines and mine workers for a job well done the state is branding them as the enemy and asking voters to punish them by paying more in taxes.

Companies like Apple are given huge tax incentives to build new offices in Nevada but the backbone of the Silver State is being burdened with huge tax increases. The proposed taxes are not a few percentage points or a statewide income tax like they have in almost every other state. These changes would double the taxes paid by mining companies from 5% to 10%.

If your job is in any way related to mining, now is the time to speak up. If your industry provides support to mines or miners this will affect you. If you are currently wearing any gold or silver jewelry remember where that came from and be proud of a state that is not afraid to work hard to provide the resources that make life a little nicer for everyone else.

Hide the Center of Rotation in Maptek Vulcan

I was trying to create a video for some co-workers the other day and couldn't get Maptek Vulcan to behave as I wanted. The video was just a screen capture of a new topography triangulation rotating on screen. Nothing too dramatic but it was marred by the big rotation center in the middle of the screen. From my days working for Maptek I remembered that there was a keystroke that would hide just the center of rotation icon but for the life of me I couldn't remember what it was. I bet I hit every button on my keyboard a dozen times trying to figure out which key hid that silly icon. I switched to the alternate color palette (‘a’ key), I changed the direction of the light source (‘l’ key) and I even displayed the extents of all the data on the screen (‘e’ key) but I couldn't find the right key to hide the center of rotation icon.

Vulcan screen shot WITH center of rotation icon.
Vulcan screen shot WITH center of rotation icon.

Vulcan screen shot WITHOUT center of rotation icon.
Vulcan screen shot WITHOUT center of rotation icon.
To make matters worse, I couldn't find the Vulcan help page that lists all the hotkeys. Maptek is just like every other supplier of software, they think that their help is the most intuitive thing in the world and that you can find anything just by taking logical steps. I've got news for Maptek and the rest of the software developers in the world, ‘Your help stinks!' It is crazy and backward unless I already know where to find what I am looking for, and if I already know where to find my answer in the online help, chances are pretty good that I remember how to use the tool and don’t need to find it in the help in the first place.

This is a really hard thing to complain about because once you have finally found what you are looking for it seems incredibly obvious and you can’t believe you didn't look there in the first place. For future reference, the keystroke to hide the center of rotation icon is:


The complete list of hotkeys for Maptek Vulcan is located in the online help at:

Envisage 3D Editor > Keyboard Controls

Envisage keyboard controls. Also known as 'hotkeys.'
Envisage keyboard controls. Also known as 'hotkeys.'
If you have never looked through the hotkeys in Vulcan you should really spend a minute to see what you have been missing. There are saved views that can be set up by using shift+number keys. You can change the color palette or enter a rotate mode without clicking on the screen. You might even realize that the dozens of straight lines that sometimes appear on the screen when you accidentally start typing on the keyboard with the Envisage window active are really just the extents of every object on the screen and can be turned off again by pressing the ‘e’ key.

Central Florida Phosphate District - Areawide Environmental Impact Statement

The Army Corps of Engineers recently released an Areawide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) for the Central Florida Phosphate District. As happens with so many mining related topics, the report almost immediately came under attack from environmental groups and from the media at large.

I found an article online from a local newspaper Bradenton Herald that cast a negative light on the whole situation right from the start. To be fair, the actual article was very fair to both sides and gave an accurate balance between preserving the function of the land and producing jobs and resources for the economy. The title of the article, however, was not so unbiased. I think the title: Phosphate mining damages environment, but also drives economy, study finds, is aiming more at shock value than technical accuracy.

This study looked at the impact of mining on wetlands in central Florida. I wish the term ‘wetland’ was more consistent across the country. The ‘wetlands’ that I am familiar with aren’t anything like the ‘wetlands’ in central Florida. When we talk about ‘wetlands’ in Utah and Nevada we mean anything that has enough water to grow something more interesting than desert sage or that can feed a medium sized rabbit on less than five acres. In central Florida I’m pretty sure that ‘wetland’ is just code for ‘swamp.’

Whether the Corps of Engineers meant to say ‘wetlands’ or ‘swamp’ the study found that about 9,800 acres of wetland and 50 miles of streams would be disturbed during proposed mining. These same mining operations would lead to 6,000 jobs and about $29 billion in value for the region’s economy. In a country still feeling the effects of a recession and where good jobs are hard to find that sounds like a lot of help coming at the right time.

I’m not saying that we should sell all our land for money but I do think that $29 billion will pay for a lot of reclamation, and reclamation in a Florida swamp should be a piece of cake. I remember working on a drilling project for a summer job during college. We spent three weeks working on a 2,000 foot core hole in central Utah (we weren't the fastest drillers). By the time the project was finished the mountain grass had grown up to the point where I couldn't see the yellow water line we laid from the stream to our drill rig. We ended up taking the line out from both ends because nobody could find the line in the middle of all that grass. If three weeks of growth on the desert mountains in central Utah will do that just think what the swamp in central Florida can do.

The AEIS came under attack from environmental groups claiming that the scope was too narrow and that it hadn’t appropriately evaluated the impacts on human health and threats to water and air pollution. I haven’t read the report personally but I do know that social and environmental impacts like these are the focus of an Environmental Impact Statement. A general Environmental Impact Statement will take about two years and $2 million to complete. I realize that nothing can be completely comprehensive of everything in the world but a good EIS tries really hard to do just that for the area of study.

Residents of central Florida should be happy to invite phosphate mines into their counties. The increased jobs and revenue will improve the standard of living for everyone. Be proud to participate in the work that made this country great. When mining in the area is complete the mining companies will do a fantastic job of reclaiming the disturbed land. Why? Because they want to continue mining in new areas and need a proven track record of success to do it.

Service Pack 8.2.1 for Maptek Vulcan

Maptek Vulcan 8.2.1 came out this week. According to the release notes, Maptek Vulcan 8.2.1 includes 45 upgrades and 49 bug fixes. In addition to these changes there were another 8 fixes to Chronos that didn't get included with the release notes (bugs in the bug reporting?). The release notes for Vulcan 8.2.1 can be found in the MaptekUsers’ Area which you will need a password to access or in the Vulcan help under Release Notes > Vulcan 8.2 > Vulcan 8.2.1 which you will have access to after you have installed the upgrade. I don’t know why Maptek doesn't want to make this list public.

Some of the highlights of Maptek Vulcan 8.2.1 include:
  • Help > About Vulcan 3D Software – This panel now includes the license and dongle expiration dates. No more wondering if your maintenance is current enough to install the latest service pack (if it isn’t the new service pack won’t work and you get to uninstall Vulcan and re-install the software in order to get back to a version that works for you).
  • Block > Advanced Reserves > Advanced Reserves Editor – The error where you were always asked to save before running has been fixed. This bug was introduced in Vulcan 8.2.0 and has been a huge problem for me. The bug would pop up the ‘do you want to save changes’ prompt every time you ran the calculate option. This would happen even if you had just saved your changes or if you hadn't made changes at all and just wanted to run reserves with the existing spec file. You have no idea how much this annoyed me.
  • Model > Triangle Edit > Snap Vertices – The release notes claim to have fixed the incomplete path names in this panel but I don’t know what really happened. I didn't see any problem with the option in Vulcan 8.2.0. I did notice that the panel was strangely misshapen in 8.2.1. I’m not sure how you mess up a standard panel like triangle properties but Maptek seems to have pulled it off. This broken panel appears elsewhere in the software.
Vulcan821 Model-Triangle Edit-Snap Vertices
Vulcan 8.2.1 - Model > Triangle Edit > Snap Vertices
  • Open Pit > Open Cut Design > Project String – This upgrade has added a check box that will prompt for the direction of projection. Previously in Vulcan, all pit designs required the user to maintain clockwise polygons. All dump designs needed to be counterclockwise. This requirement can be difficult to learn and is tedious to maintain. The new option allows the user to specify, on screen, if the projection should go outside or inside the existing polygon. The effect is almost like the option Design > Object Edit > Offset. In the release notes this has been mislabeled as a Pit Topography option.
  • File > Plot > Batch Plotting – The maximum number of flex section points has been increased to 1,000. The flex section gives a plot along a digitized line at each segment along the line. This is a huge improvement because the previous limit was really small (I want to say 20 points). The severe restriction on the number of flex section points was partially responsible for the development of the Model > Triangle Utility > Section by Line option.
  • File > Plot > Batch Plotting – The limit on the number of triangulations for use in batch plotting has been removed. I don’t know what the previous restriction was but I’m not completely sure I believe that it is truly unlimited even now.
  • Model – Maximum number of loaded triangulations has been raised to 25,000 from the previous 8,000. I have to admit that I didn't know there was an 8,000 triangulation restriction in Envisage. Apparently I have never tried to load 8,000 triangulations at the same time. I appreciate that Maptek has given a maximum number of triangulations instead of claiming that it is unlimited.
  • Model > Triangle Utility > Section by Line – Based on the description given to this option in the release notes you might think that it is a new option. This is not the case. The Section by Line option first appeared in Maptek Vulcan 8.0.0 while I was still working for Maptek. What they mean to say with this entry is that you can now use multiple triangulations with the Section by Line tool.
  • Model > Triangle Surface > Polygon Volumes – Release notes claim that an unlimited number of polygons can now be used with this option. I am always skeptical when the term ‘unlimited’ is used and am disappointed that a previous limit is not stated.
  • Chronos > Files > Open Workbook – Maptek claims that their Chronos scheduling tool will now allow spaces and special characters in the path name to workbook files. This is great for people who want to use Windows standards to name their files. I have found that in Vulcan, spaces in file and path names often come back to bite the user. This always happens at inconvenient times and the fix is changing the file name and renaming every reference to the file. Don’t get me wrong, I thing that spaces in path names should be allowed but my advice to everyone is always to avoid them and use underscores instead.

So there they are, my highlights from Maptek Vulcan 8.2.1. There are a total of 102 bugs and upgrades that say you should upgrade to the new version of Vulcan. 

So, what’s holding you back?

One of the biggest questions people have about service packs like this is why they should install them. People ask me, "If the version of Vulcan that I am currently running is working fine for the tasks I do, why should I take the time and effort to install a service pack?" This question is exacerbated by the fact that everyone on the Maptek payroll refuses to admit that there are bugs in their software even though bug fixes are one of the main reasons to release a service pack.

If you’re like me, what’s holding you back is the fear that these 102 fixes have introduced new bugs. Bugs that nobody knows about and which will interrupt my workflow when I have a deadline approaching. For this reason many Vulcan users stay one release behind in the hopes that an older version will be more stable. I’m not sure that is the best policy but I have to admit that I still have 8.1.4 installed on my machine ‘just in case.’