Diamond mine treats calculations as assets


Growing competition has required faster development and higher efficiencies in almost every sector. Companies go to significant effort to invest in their most important assets — namely, the products they deliver. These products comprise various designs, techniques and intellectual property, all of which are managed across an organisation with careful thought and attention.

There’s a fundamental process behind these company assets that is often overlooked, and its lack is responsible for aches and pains that most engineers face on a regular basis. What’s often missing is calculation management, a process that treats calculations like the vital, valuable company asset they are.

The Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories recently invested in tools and processes for making the most out of the calculations performed there. The mine is owned by a joint venture between the Rio Tinto Group (60%) and Dominion Diamond Corporation (40%), and is operated by Yellowknife-based Diavik Diamond Mines Inc., a subsidiary of Rio Tinto.

The technical processes involved in a diamond mine consist of a large number of variables, parameters and potential for inefficiencies. At Diavik these processes are regularly analysed to give the company a more precise understanding of the mine’s future yields, and to find efficiencies along the way. To perform this analysis, Diavik has traditionally relied on spreadsheet tools, but is now trying to move beyond the limitations it experiences using spreadsheets alone.

As the Superintendent of Process Technology at Diavik, Yuri Kinakin uses a host of analysis techniques to ensure that Diavik is using the best techniques available for processing their materials. Recently, Kinakin moved some of Diavik’s analysis requirements into Maple, the calculation management tool from Maplesoft, in order to simplify calculations and provide better insight compared to what was available with previous tools.

The large number of parameters involved in Diavik’s processes can result in some complicated calculations. The matrix multiplications they perform have traditionally taken more time and effort to complete than necessary.

“We use our spreadsheet tool more than we want to,” said Kinakin. “Maple just made it easier — calculations we used to do in previous tools can be done in Maple using only a few lines.”

Another common task for Kinakin and his team requires fitting curves to a set of throughput data they gather regularly. They are interested in finding the probabilities that their throughputs will exceed specific quantities; thus accurate probabilities become valuable information in each process plan. Instead of doing polynomial fitting in other tools, Diavik used Maple’s curve fitting package, which was designed specifically for this kind of work. Using Maple, Diavik was not only able to get accurate fits for their process data, but they could provide transparency for their analysis, making calculations easy to understand across the entire team.

As Diavik takes positive steps to manage its process calculations better, it hopes to use Maple for even more work. Similar to many technical organisations, Diavik is still reliant on a variety of spreadsheets that, while functional, don’t provide the flexibility or simplicity that is needed.

“Our spreadsheets can be unnecessarily complicated, and over the years, we’ve seen them grow into something very big and clunky,” Kinakin commented. As more calculations are transitioned to being managed by Maple, Diavik hopes to provide easier, more auditable reports that allow other teams to validate the work being done.

Although Kinakin has only been using Maple at Diavik for a few months, he has already experienced time savings in his process planning. By making complex calculations easier to perform, Kinakin has been building a stronger foundation of calculations that can provide more accurate solutions to the questions he had previously been trying to answer using spreadsheets.

Kinakin’s approach to calculation management is a sign of the growing need across industries to treat calculations as a valuable, structured asset. The current pace of technical projects requires a proactive approach to managing calculations properly, in a way that cuts out the redundancies and downtimes associated with the often disorganised techniques of the past. By using Maple to perform calculations in a robust, fully documented environment, Kinakin is helping Diavik make the most out of the intellectual property it has been building over its decades-long history.

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