Australian Mining Review: Don’t Plod Along
Progressive log of drilling, or plods, have traditionally been rooted in paper-based systems that are inefficient and require huge amounts of manual data manipulation.
The time involved in paperwork, lengthy email chains and wading through unwieldy spreadsheets or file transfer links too often takes geologists away from where they need to be to ensure the success of a drilling program.
They also provide little to no insight about what direction the drilling program should take next and limited transparency between drilling companies and miners.
While some larger drilling companies may be tempted to create their own software packages, these too are often expensive and extremely restrictive as they lack the ability for much-needed updates.
With the resources sector beginning to roar back to life and drill rigs becoming harder to come by, it has become increasingly clear to many drilling companies and the mining companies they work with that they must adopt a better solution.
The Australian Mining Review spoke to CorePlan chief executive Alex Goulios and growth lead Sachee Perera about how the use of a modern digital operations platform specifically designed for mining and drilling is revolutionising plods and the exploration process.
With the right software, drilling companies can plan drill holes, fill plods, and bill clients all in one place, while also being able to run timesheets and conduct staff bonus calculations all on one system.
Innovation borne of frustration
Alex said the idea for CorePlan’s digital operations platform came from 15 years in the mining industry entrenched in the frustration with legacy desktop mining software and traditional cumbersome manual processes.
“We spent many years with geologists on local and global projects and saw how they worked, how they captured data and how many geologists were going out into the field just to collect information,” he said.
“We found that it was largely a mishmash of systems made up of emails, shared drives and spreadsheets. How they were running the field work was very much a manual process.”
“It gave us a firsthand insight into how long geologists spent wasting time being forced to look at these low level tasks, instead of focusing on geology.”
The process Alex and Sachee described as being typical to what they witnessed involved every drilling day finishing with geologists compiling all the data collected that day, followed by drill reports, which often involved getting the driller’s handwritten plods and interpreting them.
The process was then replicated by management. Not only was the whole process time consuming, but they too often witnessed mistakes being made due to the simple misinterpretation of individual handwriting.
If the drilling companies were not using paper, it was often because they were being forced to use the systems set out by larger mining companies, which was often no less cumbersome than old paper systems.
Expensive custom software
Alex said larger drilling companies were attempting to build their own systems or attempting to create custom software to combat this problem.
“It was pretty counter-intuitive to have a drilling company trying to do software development by using consultants who are just making the whole process really expensive, and giving you an end product that they have no chance of making better once the contract is complete or reintegrating it in anyway,” he said.
“We thought there had to be a better way to do this because at the end of the day most were putting it in the too hard basket, so we started building from the ground up the software and business that is now CorePlan.”
The team at CorePlan began with the plan to build a simple system for drilling companies to capture and hold all of their production data, bill their clients, and share data with them. All in one place, ultimately making it easier to run and grow the business.
After spending time in the field with drilling teams in Kalgoorlie to hear exactly what was needed from the drilling perspective, CorePlan was ready to help companies say goodbye to paper and spreadsheets.
Automating the process
The CorePlan software for drillers is an intuitive mobile app that can be downloaded and used online and offline, making it just as useful with or without coverage.
The system brings together back-office operations and unifies them into a single view.
It allows for easy approvals and flexible workflows between drillers and their supervisors with the ability to create unlimited client projects and contracts across their businesses.
The digital contract tied to each client and project is capable of reconciling all project costs against activities undertaken in real time, enabling almost immediate billing and full transparency for both the driller and the miner.
“Once you’ve got that contract digitised you can allocate a team to that particular project and all of the requirements such as the schedule and drillholes will be imported, so that it’s capturing all of the components that the mining client requires,” Alex said.
“It could be specific so for some it could include downtime, or just work time, so you can be fully transparent with the client and it will include the approval process for capture in the field.”
Alex said the software enabled drillers to capture everything they needed in the app and obtain digital signatures from geologists for the relevant sign-offs.
“Back in the office, this automation really took care of a lot of pain points in manual manipulation of data to get a build-out and to see how many metres they’ve drilled, and that now enables them to immediately share their information to clients to via api or client portal to access production data,” he said.
“Going further than that, we’ve built something in a unique environment for mining in an app that can be used on any device with an easy to use swipe interface with almost no training involved for the operator.”
The system can also be used to view procedures and track any kind of incident that happened with a particular asset.
Additionally, the data can be integrated further with accounting systems, which assists in invoicing.
Alex said one of the key benefits for drillers was the ability to see how improvements could be made.
“You can stand back and look at that operation from a drilling dashboard and answer key questions like, ‘are we drilling as we much as we can, where are the gaps in the operation, what are the costs and opportunities, and inevitably, how do we grow the business,” he said.
“As we know, sometimes simply getting more rigs and doubling the size of the team doesn’t mean the operation is automatically going to become more profitable.
“It’s about working smarter with what we’ve got, especially in this kind of market because right now, if you want to buy another rig, it’s probably at least a year away.”
Although CorePlan Drilling Hub was designed for drillers, Alex said the benefits of the platform extend to the miners that work with them. Even when the miners themselves may necessarily not be using CorePlan.
“Our goal is to get the mining industry to work better together in the modern age because you don’t discover new ore bodies without mining and drilling companies working closely together. CorePlan’s initial idea was to build a SaaS platform for mining companies, specifically in exploration.”
When their mining clients asked CorePlan to help the drillers capture plods, they started taking a close look at the problems drillers were facing, and set out to solve these problems for them.
“When you’re drilling you need to know that you’re on target in terms of the plan,” Alex said.
“That you’re meeting production and quality goals and the client is satisfied with what they’re seeing in terms of geology. Because we’re dealing with nature, surprises are part of the game. We must be prepared to react to the clients changing needs as they demand it. “With real time data, you can efficiently communicate with the client and the field team to make decisions – this could be to finish the hole early, to extend the depth or change the sequence of drilling to better test the evolving target.”
For mining companies, CorePlan Exploration Hub provides end to end planning and budgeting of drill programs. With reporting, safety and sample dispatch built-in, explorers have a place for their entire team to go to work. Connecting the geo in the field to management in the boardroom.
From their initial field studies with drilling teams in Kalgoorlie, the CorePlan team has continued to develop and grow its software according to the needs of the people using it.
“All the research and development was done here in Australia, and we’ve built every version here, which has all been based on the work we have done with our partners to figure out how best to tackle the problems they face,” Alex said.
This is where features like the safety inspections and incident management module emerged, or even simpler features such as being able to duplicate a plod.
“All of that came about by working side by side with these guys because they saw a need to incorporate these various aspects into the software,” Alex said.
“Because of that, we’ve ended up with a very different app than what we started with and we’ve ignored a lot of the advice that we got from the office and went with what we heard out on the rig, which translates to being more intuitive to the guys who are using it.”
The safety add-on lets drilling companies have all their occupational health and safety documents at the touch of a finger in one central location.
Inspections, incidents, pre-starts and take-fives can be logged from anywhere, regardless of coverage.
With the ability to store and update documents easily, there is no need for bulky folders that constantly need updating. Drilling companies can also create their own easy to use forms and can digitise existing paper forms for simpler, faster and more accurate capture.
Software updates are launched every two weeks as part of CorePlan’s standard monthly subscription and incorporate client suggestions or information gleaned from the latest field visit, with the aim being that it will continue to grow just like any other software or app.
According to Sachee, this ability to keep updating is a key component of the software that sets it apart from the custom software often built by consultancies brought on by the larger companies.
“We’re continuously looking at how the drillers and miners are interacting with the product and we’re consistently getting feedback as to how we can improve a certain feature, or how we can add a new feature to improve the workflow,” he said.
“Part of our education that we’re trying to give to the larger drilling companies that want to go out and hire a consultant to build their own custom software is that they will be missing out if they want to continuously improve that product because they’re going to have to keep going out to that same consultancy.”
Importantly, the software is being quickly used by the next generation of geologists, who have fast-developed the expectation of integrated and useable tools across the sector.
With the capability of modern software to improve efficiency and transparency, there is no longer a need for old-fashioned plods on paper and spreadsheets.