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Newmont’s Co-Development of GPS Alternative Proves the Sky Is No Longer the Limit for Positioning Technology

Mining is an industry in which even the smallest changes to operations can result in substantial improvements – to costs, efficiency, production, safety and more. At Newmont, this is what drives the development and implementation of new technologies.

“We’re continually challenging ourselves and each other to find ways to improve the business,” explains James Earl, Fleet Management System Superintendent at Newmont’s Boddington operation in Western Australia. “Through innovation, we are making these improvements.”

Newmont-Boddington-Team-Co-Develops-New-Mining-TechnologyThe Newmont Boddington team that helped to develop the world’s first commercially viable ground-based satellite network that replicates a GPS constellation.

At Boddington, Australia’s largest gold mine, the recent implementation of this new technology has created efficiencies never before imagined in deep, open-pit mining. Developed in partnership with Leica Geosystems Mining Division, a company that specializes in solutions for fleet management and high-precision navigation, and Locata Corporation, a developer of alternatives to global positioning systems (GPS) technology, the new Jigsaw Positioning System (Jps) offers ground-based positioning technology that is capable of rapid adaption to meet the demands of an ever-changing pit design. It is the world’s first commercially viable ground-based satellite network that replicates a GPS constellation.

So, how is this relevant to deep, open-pit mining? When any mine extends down below the earth’s surface, clear visibility of the sky and horizon is reduced. As a result, it is a challenge for GPS receivers on the drills at the bottom of the pit to obtain a traditional GPS fix from a satellite in space. This prevents the drill’s onboard guidance system from providing accurate positions for the operators to drill. However, using ground-based transmitters and receivers, the Jps Locata system is able to pick up where GPS leaves off, allowing drill operators to come within a centimeter of target drilling locations.

Here’s how it works.

A complete virtual plan of an area to be drilled is uploaded across a wireless network to a Leica J2 drill system on Newmont’s drill fleet. Drill operators then select the required pattern, which is overlaid onto the J2 drill screen. Operators navigate the drill across the pattern, lining up crosshairs over the next hole to be drilled.

While Boddington is currently the only mining operation in the world using Leica Jps technology, powered by Locata, John Carr, Senior Technical Specialist at Boddington, believes it’s only a matter of time before others in the mining industry recognize the benefits and use the product.

“Jps eliminates the need to temporarily halt production when a positional fix through GPS isn’t possible, enabling mining companies to save time and money,” Carr says. He explains that, before Leica Jps was implemented at Boddington, a lost GPS signal required surveyors to manually mark up the location of holes to be drilled.

But mining companies aren’t the only ones who will benefit from this new technology. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has also embraced it. At the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, a test site for U.S. military aircraft, this ground-based system will provide positioning – down to the centimeter – for aircraft when GPS is denied by signal jamming. Successful trials have also been conducted in Sydney Australia, where a Locata Network was installed on the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, providing a land-based guidance system for boats navigating the busy waters of Sydney Harbour.

In the mining industry, Newmont has taken the lead on implementing this new technology, and was recently recognized for the critical role it played as a development partner by Mining Magazine, which named Newmont, Leica Geosystems and Locata winners of its 2012 Ancillary Equipment Award.

After spending four years helping to develop Jps, Carr and Earl were pleased to bring the award home to Australia and to the Boddington team that supported this work. However, they were even more pleased when the proven success of Jps prompted Newmont to approve installation of groundbreaking technology on Boddington’s shovel and dozer fleets.

“It’s only the tip of the iceberg,” Carr says. “There are many more applications for this technology in mining and a host of other industries. Knowing the possibilities this technology brings in the not-too-distant future, I would expect to see it used in everything from transport to mobile phones and potentially anywhere that a traditional GPS signal is not a viable option.”

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