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03 January 2018

Being able to track materials across the whole value chain could be a game changer – and geoscience innovation is the key

What if rocks could talk – what might they tell us? Crucially they could reveal what – and where - mineral resources lay beneath the earth’s surface. More than this – as the one constant throughout the mining value chain – imagine what we could learn if we could track how the ore body behaves from one end (exploration) to the other (marketing).

It is not as fanciful as it sounds. As technology starts to change the way we mine, we are finding new ways to turn geoscience data into insight to improve predictions of throughput and recovery. Our latest open innovation forum is helping us find solutions

Geoscience, like mining, is data rich. In fact, we are overrun with datasets, such as seismic data, drill-hole data and sampling data. We can already digitise these datasets and display them in 3D - but then what? How do we unlock the full value from these ever-growing sources of data?

The role of geoscience data in creating value

This was the challenge set at our most recent open innovation forum focused exclusively on geoscience: the study of the physical aspects of the earth, its composition and structure.

Hosted by Group Head of Discovery and Geosciences, John Vann, in Johannesburg at the end of last year, it was the latest in a series of similar open forum events held by Anglo American since 2015 to discuss critical issues facing our industry. Over the past three years we have brought together leading thinkers and implementers from across multiple industries to discover, unlock and co-create technologies and approaches to enable FutureSmart MiningTM – our approach to innovation and sustainability.

The particular aim of this forum was to share a vision of how geoscience data can create real operational value across the entire mining value chain. An evolution of the previous, more dialogue-based, open forums, the event went beyond ideation. Participants were invited to explore practical ways to close the gap between Anglo-American’s vision and today’s reality. To ensure this deeper dive into specific technologies it was an exclusive invite-only event, with technology experts from a host of innovative companies including Shell, GE, IBM, Planetary Resources and Amazon, taking part.

Data integration across the value chain will be key

A key insight from the three-day event was the importance of integrating existing datasets across the value chain and interrogating them using advanced analytics and machine learning (the ability for computers to learn without being explicitly programmed). These “big data” technologies reveal new patterns and trends that support smarter (value-based) decision making. This kind of predictive intelligence means we can spend less time measuring and monitoring operational data and more time solving for the right investment and planning outcomes.

Some of the relationships initiated at the Geoscience innovation forum have developed into exciting technology development opportunities for Anglo American.?We are already experimenting with machine learning algorithms (asking questions such as: can we differentiate between barren and mineralised rocks and to predict where the best targets may be?) and the results are very exciting.

Why open innovation?

Collaboration is a crucial part of our FutureSmart MiningTM approach to innovation and sustainability.?It helps us quickly get to the best solutions: it generates more and better ideas, gives us valuable execution support, and helps reduce our innovation costs. Over the past 3 years Anglo American has hosted 5 open forums on Mining, Processing, Water, Energy, and most recently – and in an evolved format - Geoscience.?These forums will continue to become more focused and specific as we refine our research. To date they have generated over 6,000 good ideas which have been consolidated and refined down to the dozen or so we are pursuing today. Each initiative is geared towards delivering change that will transform the way we mine mineral and metals.

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