Barrick goes agile for app development

Barrick Gold is using the agile method to connect its in-house app developers with mine operators to build, test, and refine new digital products
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Staff reporter

The company said frequent input from mine operators is critical to the agile development process it’s using to create digital products for better, faster, and safer mining. The process consists of short work cycles known as ‘sprints’, which start when in-house developers build new features into an app. Then, the developers gather feedback on the features from the mine operators—the people who will actually work with the final product—and build that feedback into a new iteration of the app, starting a new sprint.

“Most recently, our teams have been working in two-week sprints to develop a new app that improves communication and workflows in Barrick’s underground operations,” the company said in an article on it’s Beyond Borders blog.

Project lead, Gordon Fellows, who developed and implemented a similar digital system at the Chelopech mine in Bulgaria commented: “A key aspect of the agile methodology is to ‘fail fast’. We don’t want to spend all of this time developing a tool only to find out that it, or aspects of it, aren’t going to work well for the intended job.”

Individual sessions with front-line operators give our in-house developers instant feedback on the new digital products we're creating.

The goal of these sprints is to quickly develop a Minimal Viable Product—a software product with some degree of functionality that operators can use, evaluate and continuously improve. This is in contrast to a more traditional research and development approach, where an organisation invests substantial time and money in a solution that is later rolled out to end users for the first time. In this scenario, people might not find the solution useful or practical, and if that’s the case, resources will have been wasted.

“The agile approach is designed to make tools that our people not only find useful, but that they also want to use,” said Ed Humphries, Barrick’s head of digital transformation. “It’s really the operators who are making these tools, and the Digital Transformation team is facilitating that process.”

The new app is being trialled at Barrick’s Cortez operations in Nevada as part of a pilot project. Temporary tablet mounts have been customised for five types of equipment, and have been installed in order to gain operator feedback on ease of use and effectiveness. The app communicates with Wi-Fi tags installed on 24 pieces of equipment. Over 40 tags have been provided to four crews for the trial, providing equipment location information in real-time.

The pilot, which is nearly complete, is set to come in under budget. Given the substantial efficiency improvements made possible by the app, Barrick has decided to proceed with an implementation that encompasses the entire Cortez underground.

The implementation will begin in April and run through June. This will allow the project team to collect data from multiple pieces of underground equipment, including muckers (underground loaders), jumbos, which are used for drilling, and the trucks and bolters that operate underground.
One of the biggest challenges with implementation has been identifying network chokepoints, which can affect how quickly the app is able to send and receive information.

That said, the app is equipped to store data and share it with supervisors and colleagues when operators are in range of one of the numerous Wi-Fi access points underground. Work is well underway in the Cortez underground mine to upgrade its existing underground Wi-Fi network.