Making 3D Data Exchange Easier and More Effective
Three-dimensional data exchange has always been a difficult and expensive experience for mining organizations. The exchange is often confusing, requires extra work and can lead to very expensive detours. A new report released by Global Mining Standards and Guidelines Group (GMSG) pinpoints these user difficulties and proposes solutions. The most crucial step is the creation of an Open Mining Format (OMF) that would encompass a set of guidelines and recommended steps.
Five representatives from the mining industry—including industry leaders Teck, Barrick Gold and Newmont—and two other industry stakeholders, were interviewed by Vertex Consultants on behalf of GMSG. These interviews revolved around the current state of interoperability in 3D application technology. It came as no surprise that the interviews and analysis show the users experience significant difficulties and delays working with the software, collaborating with peers and learning multiple proprietary programs.
Currently, mining companies use multiple applications to manage and manipulate their 3D models. Many job functions, including surveyors, geologists, mine engineers and managers, need to be able to move from one 3D data application to another with consistency and relative ease in order to manipulate 3D projects while collaborating with clients and colleagues.
This is where issues arise, as many of these applications and software do not allow for easy, clean and accurate movement of 3D information. A shared concern among those interviewed is, “If you’re importing a model from one software package to another and not double-checking that the variables are imported correctly, you could totally screw up pit operations.”
Now that’s putting it bluntly.
There is no doubt that using multiple applications creates common technical and process challenges. Some technical challenges occur more frequently than others. These issues revolve around scripts, ASCII, flat files, name conventions, rotation of 3D images, validity, colour models, managing coordinate systems and file size, while the significant process challenges include the time loss, reverse engineering, restricted use of available technology, additional costs, and increased risk.
All of these challenges result in additional costs and significant time lost to manual maintenance of the processes.
One interviewee explained how mining companies combat the lack of interoperability within 3D software stating, “[Mining software companies] invest their human capital on trying to do things their users want rather than putting together the systems underneath.”
The proposed solution
We propose the creation of an Open Mining Format (OMF) as a better solution for managing and manipulating 3D information. This would require development of a common syntax for 3D objects. It also means leveraging existing open format solutions to optimize development in an effort to save time and money.
The OMF would be platform-neutral, supporting open design principles to foster a healthy and competitive software ecosystem. With the creation of a competitive software ecosystem, the OMF will be strategically promoted, fostering format adoption.
This is where GMSG comes in, playing a vital role in bringing everyone together and managing the process. We want maximum participation and the way to get it is if all vendors feel they have an equal stake. This way, each vendor will participate in the OMF and contribute to its success.
The OMF must also thoroughly engage format architects. In order for the OMF to work at its greatest efficiency, the industry as a whole must work together. No single mining company has sufficient leverage to effect change on the 3D software industry. But multiple companies working together with the same mining software suites can combine their efforts to resolve their challenges.
In addition, we also plan to consult with subject matter experts outside of the mining industry, where 3D manipulation and file exchange is much more commonplace. In the video game industry, for example, there are experts who may have very relevant practices to share with the mining industry, to manage our similar challenges.
Our Data Access and Usage Working Group’s Data Exchange for Mine Software Sub-committee is currently reviewing this report. V1.0 of the OMF is now on GitHub, with plans underway for V2.0.
Next steps include further research on existing open 3D formats; a summit on 3D solutions outside of the mining industry; continued challenge capture using workflows and open surveys; developing a formal work plan for format development and validating users; and opening a shared script library and hosting an online solutions forum.
GMSG can play a role in facilitating improved 3D data exchange, as well as providing a rich source of user data and an ongoing beta/feature testing audience. Creating an OMF will allow mining organizations to effectively eliminate process challenges, reduce setbacks and decrease unnecessary expenses.