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How drillers, blasters can use data to their advantage

By |  April 6, 2022
Seth Burns, innovative solutions group manager at Nelson Brothers, offered a number of data management solutions during a presentation at Technology Demonstration Day in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo: P&Q Staff

Seth Burns, innovative solutions group manager at Nelson Brothers, offered a number of data management solutions during a presentation at Technology Demonstration Day in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo: P&Q Staff

Seth Burns stumbled upon a datapoint about the mining industry that gave him reason for pause. 

“The Mackenzie Global Institute estimated there was a $370 billion opportunity for mining digitization by 2025,” says Burns, innovative solutions group manager at Nelson Brothers. “It said 70 percent of that value was projected to come from improvements in operations management, essentially using data to make better operational decisions.”

According to Burns, the Mackenzie Global Institute report also noted how mining is 30 to 40 percent less digitally mature than comparable industries. 

“It just shows we have a lot of opportunity,” he says.

With a background in mining engineering, Burns has worked in explosives with different companies for about 25 years. Throughout his career, Burns recognized that a number of blasters typically fall back on tried-and-true systems that are proven performers.

And why wouldn’t they?

“There’s always people who are doing what works,” Burns says. “That consistency is good. In blasting, that’s good. We want to do what works. But also, I think it’s important to come back a step and ask: ‘Can we do it better? Can we do it differently? How can we improve it?’”

These questions were at the heart of a presentation Burns delivered late last year at Technology Demonstration Day, an invitation-only event Sauls Seismic and Nomis Seismographs hosted in Lexington, Kentucky. Burns challenged attendees to think outside the box, sharing a variety of simple tech solutions that blasters can utilize to better collect, share and utilize data.

“Data is important to us,” Burns says. “We still have guys and some things that we do [where] we’re entering information on paper and by hand. It’s just easy and how we do it. But if we’re going to use that information or data, we’ve got to get it into a format where we can use it. So if we can enter it a little differently or use it a little differently, then that information can help teach us, train us and make us more efficient.”

Simple solutions

Nelson Brothers regularly stores its shot reports in SharePoint, a web-based collaborative platform that integrates with Microsoft Office. Photo: Xesai/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Nelson Brothers regularly stores its shot reports in SharePoint, a web-based collaborative platform that integrates with Microsoft Office. Photo: Xesai/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Seemingly everyone with a working computer is familiar with Word and Excel within the Microsoft Office suite. But how many people run these as apps on their smartphone? 

When Burns posed the question to Technology Demonstration Day attendees, only a few hands in the audience shot up.

“You can download these apps on your phone and do the same thing on your computer and on your iPad,” he says. “We use these things for writing documents, for collecting information, for reviewing spreadsheets, for setting schedules [and] sending emails.”

OneDrive, a file-hosting service, is another powerful Microsoft tool Burns recommends.

“It is basically like your file manager,” he says. “You can drop files into OneDrive, but it’s cloud-based. So all of that information is stored in the cloud. That means the information is accessible anywhere. I could pull up my phone right now, open up my OneDrive app and I have access to every single file that is on my computer. I can pull up any record, any document, edit it [and] work on it. That accessibility is pretty cool.”

Power Apps is another underutilized tool providing Nelson Brothers with unique advantages.

“Power Apps builds mobile and web apps,” Burns says. “Basically, what we’re using Power Apps for is to collect data. It’s a simplified version. You’ve got a lot of apps on your phone, but Power Apps is just kind of a cutdown version where you can build apps.”

Nelson Brothers built apps to capture audits, manage scheduling and support mechanics.

“We worked with some developers who helped us do the more complex things,” Burns says. “You get on a call with them and share what you want to do, and they start building it. And then you help them work back and forth to generate apps.”

Nelson Brothers even developed a drone management app, thanks to Power App.

“We build every drone flight that we do off this,” Burns says. “It’s not one off the shelf. We paid to build the one that we wanted. Now, we can track battery times [and] create maintenance schedules for our batteries in our drones.”

SharePoint, a document management and storage system, is yet another Microsoft tool that has been a win for Nelson Brothers.

“We can create a shot report by customer, and then we’re able to basically put all of our shot report records in a folder,” Burns says. “The drill log, field notes, a shot video [and] the shot layout diagram can all be tucked in under that one folder.”

The beauty of SharePoint is that the data is all shareable.

“The guy in the office or his manager or technical person can pull up his phone, jump in on SharePoint and see this document or folder and any document associated with that blast,” Burns says. “They can see the blast report, seismograph [and] drill log all in one place, accessible on a phone or an iPad, anywhere you are at. That’s a big benefit.”

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry magazine. Yanik can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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