Group for Research in Decision Analysis

Smart(er) industrial mining complexes

Iron mine, Western Australia

The sustainable and responsible use of the Earth’s mineral resources is of critical importance to society. These resources supply raw materials and metals that we rely upon, as well as contribute to the growth of developing and emerging economies. Recent information for Canada shows that mineral production contributed $54 billion to the Canadian Gross Domestic Product; nearly double the combined contribution of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and nearly 20 % of the value of Canadian exports.

What is an industrial mining complex?

Industrial mining complexes are mineral value chains which start with the extraction of materials from a group of mines that are then blended, processed and treated through different processing facilities, interconnected by various material handling methods and means of transportation. The result is a set of sellable products delivered to various customers and/or the spot market. Uncertainties are inherent to the materials supplied from mines and flow along the value chain, as well as market demand. These sources of uncertainty are critical facets of this integrated business and the related strategic planning, performance forecasting and production scheduling.

Decisions to make

Strategic mine planning typically involves decisions regarding: which materials to extract and when; how to blend or/and stockpile these materials; how to utilize the available processing streams; how to manage required capital investments; how to manage waste and sequence rehabilitation, and how to deal with commodity markets. These decisions were traditionally optimized separately using assumptions and methods that ignore the inherent uncertainties and resulting risks noted above. Over the past decade however, substantial advances have been made to develop mathematical optimization models that better account for uncertainty and manage the related technical risk, while integrating and simultaneously optimizing the various interacting components of the related mining complex to capitalize from their synergies.

Simultaneous stochastic optimization of a mining complex

Simultaneous stochastic optimization offers a new framework for the strategic planning of mineral value chains by integrating the optimization of the separate elements along the chain and by doing so, maximizes shareholder value, manages technical risks intelligently, and addresses pertinent aspects of sustainable development of mineral resources in a holistic way. In addition, we address persistent theoretical problems, such as the spatial high-order stochastic simulation of pertinent mineral deposit attributes (supply of materials from mines), mathematical models and algorithms for stochastic optimization of mining complexes, and the intelligent integration of new sensor information at multiple time-scales. We also address the issue of very large datasets involved in optimizing mining complexes by using metaheuristics, or methods combining (meta)heuristics and exact methods, or more recently methods combining heuristics and machine learning techniques. These solutions are used to resolve very large scale, non-linear optimization models that could not be solved before.

Using these approaches, our case studies of different mining complexes and commodities demonstrate: (i) an improvement in the reliability of the operation to meet production forecasts; (ii) an increase in the amount of metal produced from the same mineral; and (iii) substantially higher economic value due to the ability of new approaches to directly manage risk, thus contributing to the sustainable and responsible development of mineral resources.