Plastic balls bring savings for miners

By Kate Tilley
Correspondent

Published: August 2, 2013 1:44 pm ET
Updated: August 2, 2013 1:49 pm ET

Image By: Blast Movement Technologies Darren and Diane Thornton with the blast-movement monitoring system

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA — A Queensland technology company has invented a simple, yet sophisticated, plastic ball that helps miners track down lost gold.

Brisbane-based Blast Movement Technologies Pty. Ltd. produces blast-movement monitors (BMMs) — plastic balls that are installed near valuable mineral resources in dedicated drill holes before blasting and are easily located after a blast, enabling production teams to know exactly where ore and waste are so they can be separated.

The single-use balls, about 10 inches in diameter, are made of glass-reinforced nylon. They contain directional transmitters that are programmed and activated before a blast and located afterward with a portable detector.

Dedicated software is used to calculate the depth and precise 3-D movement vector of each BMM. That information is then used to quickly redefine ore boundaries to reflect the measured movement, enabling more precise selection of ore and waste after the blast.

Darren Thornton, director and principal consultant of Blast Movement Technologies, said that for a mine producing 500,000 ounces of gold a year, the typical loss of 5 percent is worth about US$35 million a year. Most operations have greater ore loss than that and, in some cases, it has been measured to be as much as 20 percent.

Thornton said a US$200,000 investment in the plastic balls will cover an entire year's blast monitoring program and the benefits will be tens of millions of dollars.

Miners around the world searching for gold, copper, nickel, zinc and iron ore have already been kicking goals with the balls. About 70 percent of the 14,000 balls produced in Queensland this year have gone overseas to mines in Ghana, Tanzania, Canada and Peru.

There has been limited interest from the U.S., but Thornton said BMT, a finalist in the 2013 Australian Business Awards, plans to open an office soon in Denver. "The U.S. is only a small part of [our] market, although we are trying to build that up," he said.

Thornton said new markets are also opening in Finland and Sweden.

With 20 years' experience in applied, practical research in diverse fields, a degree in mathematics and physics, and a work grounding in explosives, Thornton came to mining with a different view of its problems.

He was one of the BMM inventors and in 2005 secured funding for a three-year research project to advance the technology, investigate blast movement and apply it to ore control.

At the same time, he established BMT to commercialize the technology.

"Taking this concept to maturity has certainly been my career highlight, but it would not have been possible without the contribution of a unique group of brilliant individuals. I get great personal satisfaction from knowing we are helping the mining industry to become more efficient and better utilize the world's limited resources," he said.

Thornton's wife, Diane, with a degree in applied science and a master's in information technology, is a BMT co-founder and the company's business manager, responsible for day-to-day operations, supporting customers and staff in manufacturing, purchasing, human resources and accounts.

BMT claims miners lose "hundreds of thousands of dollars" with every blast and, according to its logo, says it "has the balls to ensure you know where your valuable ore ends up after blasting."

Between six and 12 balls are used in each blast. They are color-coded, in red, yellow, green and orange, and built to withstand temperatures from 120° F to minus 60° F. It usually takes less than one hour to locate all BMMs after a typical blast.

"The rock will move during blasting and experience shows it is probably a lot more than you think," Thornton said.

"There is very little that can be done to reduce the movement — you just need to know where it moves. If blast movement is not accounted for in ore control procedures, valuable mineral will be sent to a waste dump.

"Reducing ore loss is pure profit. You still mine the same amount of rock, send the same number of trucks to the plant, and process the same amount of ore. The only difference is now there is more mineral produced. More revenue for almost the same cost — that will make shareholders happy.''

Thornton said BMMs could be used in his home state of Queensland's expansive coal mining industry but, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, finding gold and copper around the globe is more lucrative.


Comments

Plastic balls bring savings for miners

By Kate Tilley
Correspondent

Published: August 2, 2013 1:44 pm ET
Updated: August 2, 2013 1:49 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Plastics News Now: Arburg's 3-D printing machine hitting the market

October 23, 2014 9:03 am ET

Chrysler is hiding design elements in parts, Amcor teams up with Method for a molding and filling plant and Arburg's Freeformer attracts attention at ...    More

Image

Sales, orders climbing for Wittmann Battenfeld

October 22, 2014 4:04 pm ET

Equipment maker Wittmann Battenfeld GmbH expects sales this year to increase 7 percent, to 295 million euros, as it said some key markets, including...    More

Image

Plastic particles showing up in Germany's Lake Constance

October 21, 2014 1:16 pm ET

While Fakuma 2014 exhibitors and visitors occupied themselves with topics like molding of micro-sized plastic parts during the show, the presence of...    More

Image

Material Insights: Fakuma puts the spotlight on medical and automotive-related materials news

October 20, 2014 10:13 am ET

Editor Don Loepp and senior reporter Frank Esposito break down all the materials-related news from the Fakuma trade fair in Friedrichshafen, Germany.    More

Image

Momentive gearing up for some timely LSR sales

October 17, 2014 10:58 am ET

Momentive Performance Materials Inc. has plenty of time for customers at Fakuma — thanks to colorful new watchbands made with the firm's fiber-r...    More

Market Reports

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Plastics in Mexico - State of the Industry Report

This report analyzes the $20 million dollar plastics industry in Mexico including sales of machinery & equipment, resins and finished products.

Our analysts provide insight on business trends, foreign investment, top end markets and plastics processing activity. The report also provides important data on exports, production, employment and value of plastics products manufactured.

Learn more

Plastics Caps & Closures Market Report

The annual recap of top trends and future outlook for the plastics caps & closures market features interviews with industry thought leaders and Bill Wood’s economic forecast of trends in growing end markets. You will also gain insight on trends in caps design, materials, machinery, molds & tooling and reviews of mergers & acquisitions.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

More Events