2014 | Mining University

Rare Earth Elements - Greenest of the Green

The National Mining Association recently came out with an infographic on rare earth elements and their place in modern society. These elements are used in everything from phones, cameras and tablets to military technology including jet engines and night vision goggles.

Rare earth elements are also used in so called 'green' industries. Windmills and electric car batteries use rare earth elements as well as energy efficient light bulbs. Without rare earth elements large and fundamental parts of the 'green' movement would be unavailable.

Unfortunately, the United States is largely dependent on foreign imports for our rare earth elements. Chinese exports supply most of the raw materials that we are so proud of using to protect the environment. As a country, it is in our best interest to encourage the mining of rare earth elements is safe and responsible jurisdictions (America) in order to protect our ability to protect the planet.

Rare Earth Elements
Rare Earth Elements

Polygonal Reserver - Maptek Vulcan

Maptek Vulcan has a new/old scheduling tool called the Polygonal Reserver. I call it new/old because I didn't know that it was a separate module. I originally learned about the polygonal reserver while I was working for Maptek. As an employee I had access to all the sale-able modules. It never occurred to me that this tool, which combines the functionality of two other tools, might not be part of the base module.

The polygonal reserver combines the functionality of the Polygons tool in the Model > Triangle Solid sub-menu with the Advanced Reserves Editor reporting tool. By combining these tools the polygonal reserver allows the user to interactively change the reserve area by modifying points on a polygon. The resulting triangulation and reserve results can then be used to schedule or simply report the mineable tonnage.

If you have spent any time at all with the advanced reserves editor you have probably seen the panel for the polygonal reserver, the 'name' tab under the 'polygons' section. The 'new naming convention' capability seems a little finicky and you can't exclude some of the naming conventions but the default naming convention puts a generic prefix onto the name of the polygon when naming the triangulation. I really dislike this.

The other quirky part of the tool is 'Display grade totals dynamically' on the 'Setup' tab. This functionality requires that a report specification file already be setup in the advanced reserves editor. I completely misunderstood this part of the tool when I ran it for the first time. In my defense, I don't usually use the report tool in advanced reserves so it didn't occur to me that the polygonal reserver would require it. In fact, I don't think anybody uses the report functionality in advanced reserves. Most people just export results to csv and edit the results in Microsoft Excel. Everybody else just uses the dump file. Anyway, without the report spec file there are no results to report in the dynamic window.

Once things were setup correctly, the polygonal reserver worked fine and actually saves a lot of time. I like the tool but am not sure that combining two existing tools is worth purchasing an extra module, especially since the original software package runs in the neighborhood of $50,000.

Numbered Views in Maptek Vulcan

Today we were working on designs in two different parts of the pit that were far apart from each other. I wasn't the one running the mouse and watching someone else zoom in and out to pan from one end of the mine to the other was making me queasy. This reminded me of a tool in Vulcan that I don't use as much as I should: Numbered Views.

The Numbered Views setting in Maptek Vulcan saves the zoomed extents shown in the Envisage window. You can set up to nine views which is more than I have ever been able to keep straight. To use the option zoom and pan the Envisage view until the first view is centered on the desired section of the displayed layers. Next press Shift + 1 to set the Numbered View. Now, when the number '1' is pressed the Envisage window will return to this view. Additional views can be saved using the numbers 1-9. Previous versions of Vulcan only saved these views for the current session of Vulcan. Now, however, the views are saved more permanently so you can go back to the same view every time Vulcan is used. 

Maptek Vulcan Extents Problem

I was having dinner with some friends tonight and, being the nerds that we are, conversation turned to work and Vulcan software. The crux of the conversation was Vulcan errors that we had all made. One mistake seemed more prominent than others.

In my time supporting the Vulcan software, both with Maptek and even after, one common mistake eventually confuses most new users of the program. The extents mode creates a fundamental change to the way that Vulcan is displayed and most people don't even know how they turned it on let alone how to turn it off.

What happens is this:

The user thinks that a word processing program is the active window on their computer but in reality Vulcan is the active window. As they begin to type the buttons they press aren't creating words in a sentence, they are activating hotkeys in Vulcan. Most of these hotkeys activate things that are rather innocuous (a timer since last refresh or a rotation dial) but eventually the 'E' button (the most used letter in the English language) is pressed.

The 'E' hotkey activates the extents mode in Maptek Vulcan. This puts a box around the extents of every object on the screen. There are often so many box lines on the screen that it is difficult to see anything else.

Because the user doesn't realize what created the error, they have no idea how to turn it off. I have had people approach me in a panic over this and it is so easy to fix.

Next time your Envisage window blows up with thousands of boxes and random lines, try pressing the 'E' key.

Independence Day 2014

Colorful Fireworks a.k.a Burning Metal from a Mine near You
Colorful Fireworks a.k.a Burning Metal from a Mine near You

Happy American Independence day everybody. This July 4th remember that while you are looking at your favorite fireworks display you are really looking at the results of a lot of mining work. The colorful explosions of each firework are really burning metal that some miner pulled out of the ground to make your holiday a little brighter.

For a little enlightenment on the subject, Wikipedia's Fireworks page lists the following colors and their accompanying colors:

  • Red - Strontium, Lithium
  • Orange - Calcium
  • Yellow - Sodium
  • Green - Barium
  • Blue - Copper
  • Azure - Cesium
  • Violet - Potassium, Rubidium
  • Gold - Iron
  • White - Titanium, Aluminum, Beryllium, Magnesium

Driving Innovation by the National Mining Association

I’m a big fan of anything that casts a good light on the mining industry. The latest project from the National Mining Association (NMA) does just that. This short video is a small reminder of all the good things that come out of the earth for our benefit.

In an era where mining is cast as dirty and evil we need more evidence of the good that responsible mining does for the global economy and our own personal comfort.

Good work to the people at the NMA who produced and funded this clip. I think this is just the sort of advertising the mining industry needs.

Maptek Vulcan 9

Well, Maptek Vulcan 9 is finally here. This version was expected to be released in late 2013 but didn’t make it to market until January 30th. I don’t know what took so long in the development process but 77 new upgrades and bug fixes must have played a role in the delay.

One of the biggest upgrades to Vulcan 9 is the change to how the graphics engine is used. The new version of the software takes advantage of your computer’s graphics card to display 3D images on the screen. This means that really big triangulations and grids won’t slow down the machine as much. Previously, Vulcan had used the central processing unit (cpu) to render images on the screen. This made things slow and cumbersome especially if images were being rotated or magnified. 

I think everyone has run into a situation where rotating a big topography triangulation has become so slow and choppy that they just gave up. Those days are (mostly) over. Vulcan 9 does a great job displaying very large triangulations. This biggest improvement to the software also comes with a warning. Part of the documentation for Vulcan 9 encourages the user to make sure that the graphics driver for their machine is up to date. Apparently, there have been issues with some graphics cards not playing well with the new graphics engine.

The upgrades to Vulcan graphics are all part of the change to the dynamic memory settings. I have always thought that Vulcan’s ‘dynamic memory settings’ naming convention was a bit of a misnomer. Sure you could change the amount of memory assigned to display images vs processing data, but once the software was running you couldn't change how memory was allocated. You had to restart Vulcan to modify the ‘dynamic memory settings.’ In Vulcan 9 that has all gone away. Memory is now managed ‘dynamically’ by the system. Maptek even left a hole in the splash screen where the option used to be so the user can take note of its absence.

Other important items to me in this new version include one that isn't there. In my notes for Vulcan 8.2.2 Maptek promised that spaces in path names for Whittle import would be fixed. I must have been too liberal in my description of what needed to be fixed. The guys at Maptek fixed the space name problem for Vulcan block model file names but the .res and .par files (the essence of what you are importing from Whittle) that are what is being imported still don’t like spaces in the file names. The Maptek guys tell me that this is recorded as bug number VUL-29545 and will be fixed at some future dateL.

Sturgis, South Dakota Mining Ordinance

County Commissioners in Meade County, South Dakota are seeking to create a zoning ordinance for mining in order to allow for a mining ordinance to be created. The mining ordinance is needed to allow gold mining in old tailings piles near Whitewood Creek. Residents of the county are eager to welcome new jobs into the area. County Commissioner Alan Aker, who proposed the zoning ordinance, seems to understand the importance of allowing and regulating mining activities on his home turf.

As part of the discussion about the zoning ordinance the environmentalists put in their two cents. As stated in the Meade County Times-Tribune:
Environmentalist Nancy Hilding of Black Hawk said while she doesn't disagree with the county's desire to pass a mining ordinance, she believes much more work and research must first be done to write an effective ordinance.
This attitude toward developing natural resources is deceptively rational. Any intelligent human being will agree that research must be done before passing any ordinance. That's the whole point of government regulation. The problem becomes apparent only as time goes by. Environmentalists have discovered that if they can force research of a given issue to go on for long enough that eventually all development programs will go away.

I'm not saying that all mining permits should be approved out of hand. Regulating of all industries is important to our country and planet. As reasonable people, we simply need to be able to say when enough research has happened and it's okay to allow jobs to be created and the economy to thrive.

West Virginia Chemical Spill

I have to admit that I have been ignoring the story about the chemical spill in West Virginia. It happened toward the end of the week last week and I didn't want to interrupt my weekend. It happened on the other side of the country. It was being blamed, in a round about way, on the mining industry. All of these things combined to make me want to ignore the story.

Today I finally broke down and started looking into the story and was shocked at how the mining industry was being dragged through the mud by mainstream media for no reason whatsoever. One article from MSN News actually states that the chemical wasn't on any mine site. Based on how this was being treated by the Today show and other media outlets I was sure that the leak had happened at a mine site or at a site treating coal. In fact the company that leaked the chemical, Freedom Industries, was the supplier of the chemical. Nothing had even been on a mine site yet.

Another fun fact that came to my attention was that the chemical isn't deadly at all according to the article in MSN News. The chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol, is used to wash coal to reduce ash. The chemical's other use is as an air freshener (see Wikipedia). The article in MSN News states that, even in it's most concentrated form the chemical isn't deadly.

I'm so glad that the mainstream media could associate mining and all the jobs and prosperity it brings to West Virginia with a 'disaster' that didn't happen on a mine site and didn't kill anybody. Once again the mining industry plays the 'bad guy' for the rest of the world.