Striking Gold with Big Data: Geospatial Analytics for the Mining Industry

Mining operators, investors, and supply chain stakeholders rely on production data to understand the financial upside or potential losses from a project. But what happens when mining operations are located in far-flung, opaque regions that are geographically disparate?

As this is more often the case rather than the exception, Orbital Insight developed leading indicators into mining productivity. Monitoring mines through novel data sources can deliver insight into the time it takes to recover from disruptions to quantify lost productivity. These new data sources can also provide clues into the expansion of ongoing operations and increases in production.

La Escondida Copper Mine, Chile
Disruption: The 2017 Strike

BHP-owned La Escondida is a copper mine in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The largest copper mine in the world, La Escondida was hit by a production disruption on February 9, 2017 when 2,500 workers went on strike due to disputes related to new wage and benefit contracts.

Orbital Insight monitored the number of cell phones in the mine pinging their locations daily. As expected, the amount of pinging devices in the mine approached zero throughout the strike.

Following the resolution and strike’s end on March 23, 2017 Orbital Insight did not see device counts return to normal pre-disruption levels until early April, indicating an additional week of recovery time that would otherwise go unreported.

In addition to cell phone location data, Orbital Insight found corroborating evidence of the strike using satellite imagery and applying computer vision to identify and count trucks. By geofencing the parking lots, Orbital Insight is able to monitor these areas of interest. During normal operations, the lots are empty as the mine trucks are hauling extracted material.

Similar to our geolocation trends, the lots were full during the strike and during the recovery period from March 23, 2017 to early April.

Above: Orbital Insight identifies full truck lots from satellite imagery on March 30, 2017 – a week after the strike ends at La Escondida.

Expansion: Los Colorados Concentrator

On a positive note, Orbital Insight can also help businesses predict production increases through geospatial analytics. BHP had publicly announced its plans to add a third concentrator, Los Colorados, at the La Escondida Mine in 2016, but a lack of ground truth and official press release news made it difficult to predict the expansion using traditional data sources.

Enter Orbital Insight: Rather than just looking at the raw number of device counts at the mine, Orbital Insight identified anomalous ratios between Apple and Android devices at La Escondida (Chilean nationals overwhelmingly use Android devices). This additional demographic context was used to identify a crew of foreign technicians that were on the site as early as the first week of August 2017 to start up the Los Colorados concentrator.

BHP officially announced the concentrator and its production gains in a press release on October 18, 2018, long after Orbital Insight detected the startup technicians.

Conclusion:

While metals and minerals are inherently extracted from opaque locations with little available ground truth, Orbital Insight is able to identify leading indicators into meaningful events such as disruptions or expansions. Mining operators, their competitors, investors, and supply chain stakeholders can understand implications on commodity prices, company revenues, or their own supply chain disruptions as they happen.

Find out how Orbital Insight can help you monitor other mining locations and commodities through multi-source geospatial analytics – including satellite-detection of new roads and buildings, increased vehicle traffic, stockpile growth, and communication signals from cell phone and AIS.

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