Drilling software for exploration teams: The ultimate guide
Welcome to the ultimate guide to drilling software for exploration teams!
In this guide, you'll find everything you need to know about exploration drilling software in one place, including what software exploration teams are using, what's trending in drilling software, how to choose the best drilling software for your team - and more.
This guide focuses on drilling software for exploration and near-mine exploration teams, however many of the learnings will also apply for resource definition and geotech teams.
Note: drilling contractors, please refer to our drilling software guide for drilling contractors.
“Drilling software” is a type of software that helps exploration teams with various aspects of drilling such as planning, operations, management, data analytics and more.
Drilling software can be used to improve efficiency, reduce costs, digitise data and make better-informed decisions across the drilling lifecycle.
Drilling software can be either on-premises or cloud-based.
Some also offer integrations with other types of drilling software to gain a better understanding of the entire end-to-end drilling process.
Types of drilling software
Drill planning software
Software used by geology professionals to design a drilling strategy and generate drill target trajectories for subsurface exploration.
Drilling management software
A purpose-built software package for exploration teams to manage their drilling data during the drilling phase of a drill program. This includes capture and management of drilling, cost and time activity data, plus drilling performance analysis and reporting functionalities.
Plod management software
A software package that standardises plod data between contractors before it is entered into a database. Often it will include basic summary reporting data like total metres drilled and shift costs.
Drilling validation software
Software built for exploration teams to validate field data from the drill rig before entering it into the database. This could include QC statistical tools to ensure that results fall within statistical control.
Exploration data management platform
The more common term used to describe an exploration data management platform is a database. It’s where all of the data related to the exploration project is stored.
A database is often ‘owned’ by a database coordinator or manager, whose job it is to control the flow of data in or out of the system.
Drill scheduling software
Software specific to the planning, scheduling and utilisation of drilling rigs on one or multiple drill programs. This software could also be used by drilling contractors to manage their fleets.
Drill program management software
Think project management software - but for running drill programs.
This includes a range of functionalities to assist with tenement management, managing drill contractors and daily drilling data, reporting and analytics, field activity management, sample tracking, drilling invoice reconciliation and more.
The best drilling software
You might be wondering which type of drilling software is best for exploration teams.
But each type of drilling software serves a different purpose.
There is no single product that can do every task that every exploration team need to do each day, so teams must rely on a combination of products (a 'software stack') to get the job done.
So the question is less “which is better”, and more, “what is the optimal combination of products to get the job done”.
The answer to this question will depend on a range of different factors.
Whilst we don’t know the specifics of your business, we can give you some general advice about what a great combination of software looks like in practice, and share with you what Australian exploration teams like Chalice Mining, Dreadnought Resources, BHP and Northern Star Resources are doing.
What a top-notch drilling software stack looks like
A software stack is a combination of digital tools used to run a complete workflow like an exploration drilling campaign.
A drilling software stack might include software like:
- drill program design and 3D modelling package (eg Micromine, Leapfrog)
- Microsoft Excel
- Microsoft Project
- geologging software
- an accounting package
- an exploration data management platform (or database)
Every exploration company uses a different set of tools to achieve the same end goal: running a drill program to make a discovery on time and on budget.
But some combinations of software can achieve this goal faster and with a lot less hassle than others.
As a general rule:
Your software should work for your team, not the other way around.
It should minimise low-level admin tasks and help your team work smarter, not harder.
But until now, exploration software stacks have been incomplete. There's great software at the planning end and the database end, but nothing in between to help with running the drill program in the field. So many teams rely on spreadsheets, which can be time-consuming and prone to errors.
Is there a better way?
Why you should stop running drill programs on spreadsheets
Exploration drill programs are complex, with siloed data and communication between field teams, drillers, managers, and office staff via spreadsheets. Geos must navigate multiple tools for simple tasks, creating delays. And there's a lack of visibility throughout the process.
Traditional methods don't provide a complete picture of field operations, including delayed drill plods and data stored in multiple spreadsheets.
Until recently, there was no alternative to using spreadsheets in the field.
What future-focused exploration teams like Chalice, BHP and Dreadnought are doing
Future-focused exploration teams like Chalice Mining, BHP, Dreadnought Resources, FMG and Northern Star Resources recognised the need to bring together all aspects of the drill program into one space where everyone can collaborate together in real-time and get more out of their drilling budget.
Here's what they did about it.
Future-focused exploration teams are switching out their spreadsheets for drill program management software.
Drill program management software
It’s a convenient digital workspace that helps exploration teams to create efficient workflows, reduce overheads and pivot the drill program based on what’s happening beneath the surface in real time.
Rather than having to consult multiple tools and spreadsheets as they have in the past, they only need to consult one tool to run all of their drill programs.
For managers, it functions as a central hub where all operational data and processes can be standardised across projects for more effective, comparable drill programs.
It also creates a clear chain of custody for drill program data by bringing together a complete history of every hole and its associated activities in to one place.
Whilst features like drilling planning, drilling cost tracking, drilling performance analysis, drilling reporting and plod tracking and management can be found in other products, drill program management software is growing in popularity because it offers an integrated, cost-effective solution.
As a Managing Director or Exploration Manager, you want to be sure that you’ve given your team the best possible chance to make a hit - and that the money you’re spending is moving the needle in the right direction.
There are multiple ways that the software can help you on your journey toward this goal.
Accurate data, delivered on time
Accurate data is key to making informed decisions. It's easier to capture accurate data with:
- Built-in governance controls that enforce data and standards and requirements and provide automatic warnings when data doesn’t add up or fields are missing.
- Time-stamped digital paper trails that show who modified the data if follow-up or auditing is required down the track.
- Simplified and intuitive processes at the point of data entry so the team can quickly and accurately enter the data as they go and not days or weeks later.
- Instantaneous and automated real-time cost calculation based on each drillers’ cost contract (including conditional clauses like minimum shift and slow pen rates) for laser-accurate cost tracking and reporting.
But not only does the data need to be accurate, but it also needs to get to you quickly so that you can make decisions as the need arises.
Because an amazing dataset that details a declining penetration rate with pin-point accuracy won’t be much use if it arrives three weeks late!
Automation built into drill program management software can help speed up data processing so that associating drilling data to holes, managing plods/DDRs and building reports only take a few moments.
This means that insights can be obtained faster than ever and that you can respond to what’s happening on the ground as soon as it’s time to start the next shift.
The context you need to make great decisions
Drill program management software can help managers gain deep insights into drilling performance, optimise operations, and get the most out of resources.
By bringing together everything that happens before, during, and after drilling, managers can understand how their entire operations drive results on the ground.
Better, data-driven decisions can be made by accessing contextual data, identifying patterns in daily operations and tracking changes over time.
Powerful analytics can connect managers to instances that need further investigation at the day, shift, plod, crew, and rig level, providing complete visibility into what's driving performance.
Imagine having the ability to predict the outcome of your decisions before they take place based on your real data, without having to run complicated macros to find the answers you need.
That’s the power of predictive analytics found in drill program management software.
Using your real data, you can answer important questions and make decisions with greater confidence, minimise risk and understand the potential impacts on your bottom line.
- How long will it take to complete the drill program?
- On what date will the rig need to be moved to the next hole and will we be ready in time for this to happen?
- How much will the remaining holes cost us?
- Will we go over our drill program budget, and if so, by how much?
- Have we chosen the right rig for the job?
Easy access to these kinds of insights can help you anticipate the performance of your drill program, coordinate and allocate resources more effectively and minimise downtime. By knowing ahead of time if you will stick to your budget, you can take action to reduce costs and maximise productivity with your remaining resources.
Samples in the lab, not the core shack
Getting accurate and timely assay data is crucial for a drilling program. A streamlined process for getting samples to the lab is necessary to prevent delays and secure the next round of investment. Drill program management software with sample dispatch automation can help generate sampling order paperwork and consignment numbers, notify the lab when samples are incoming, and provide visibility across the sampling lifecycle for faster turnaround. This gives managers complete visibility of costs, potential blockers, and delays in getting assay data back.
Exploration professionals often lament that they spend too much time in the office, on their emails, and not enough time in the field or interpreting what’s happening under the surface.
How much time do you think your geos are spending:
- transferring data from paper plods or spreadsheets into other spreadsheets?
- going back and forth with drillers to get to the bottom of a measurement, charge or missing data point?
- stuck on their emails at the expense of real geology?
What about your time as a manager, spent on invoice reconciliation at the end of the month?
Plod automation, found exclusively in drill program management software, is here to get your team out of the office and back into the field where they’re happiest.
Plod automation makes it possible to process any type of drill plod, from any contractor in any format, and reformat it to suit the needs of your project in just a few seconds. By removing the need for the time-consuming process of manually reformatting and transferring data between systems, your geos' time is only spent reviewing the data - getting them back to the geology sooner.
Similarly, Exploration Managers can leverage automation to assist in reconciling invoices faster and more accurately. Because the data is quick and easy to process drill production, costs and overall progress can be monitored on a daily basis, giving you more decision-making power and oversight.
Finally, because everyone is able to stay on the same page by consulting one space for their questions about the drill program, there’s less back and forth within the team. You don’t need to email your Senior Geo to ask if those samples have been dispatched or not and wait until the next business day to receive a reply. You can log on and find the answer yourself in a matter of seconds and get on with the day.
Many exploration teams use their database as their central repository for data captured in the field. So it makes sense at first to think of drill program management software as being similar to a database.
But the answer is NO. Drill program management software is not designed to replace your exploration data management platform or database.
Drill program management software connects with your drill planning software and your database, for a complete end-to-end software solution for exploration drilling.
It doesn’t handle geological data, logging data or sampling data, but it CAN help strengthen the reliability and validity of your exploration mining database by implementing a chain of custody for field data.
This means you can see who has handled the data and when. So rather than getting on the phone or sending an email to find out who did what on-site four weeks ago, you can see directly what happened and who to follow up with.
Databases (and spreadsheets) are not built for collaboration.
It’s hard to see what’s happening on the rig or in the field when the data is filed away into silos in the database. Not to mention the loading issues, version control issues and data standardisation issues between teams (your database admin is cringing right now).
In today's operating environment, it shouldn’t take you more than a few seconds to find the answers to questions like:
- Which holes have been approved and are ready to drill?
- When will the rig be available to drill the holes?
- Have our holes been rehabbed yet? Are we certain that every hole has been finalised?
- How much have we spent on drilling this month and how do our actual drilling costs compare to our forecasted cost per metre?
And if it does, you’re working in hard mode.
Capturing great operational data is a great way of making sure that all of the processes that happened during the drilling campaign, including the capturing of subsurface information, have been executed correctly.
By streamlining processes and ensuring that all data is collected correctly, and accessible to the team throughout the execution of the project using drill program management software, you can:
- spend more time in the field, interpreting the geology, building models and testing hypotheses
- increase certainty in the accuracy and repeatability of your drill program data
- plan more efficient and cost-effective drill programs in the future
- improve the reliability of, and confidence in, your database.
A big problem many exploration teams experience is having all of their data digitised, but it doesn’t play nicely with each of the systems they need to use to get the job done. A problem when data is your only asset until you find a resource.
Digitisation is no longer enough. Execution of a digital transformation as part of a greater digital strategy is the next step toward meeting the future challenges of the mining industry (more on this in a second).
Future-focused Exploration Managers are thinking about this right now. They’re looking at new-to-market, interoperable technologies like drill program management software that can digitise all aspects of their exploration projects and connect them up.
Migrating from a manual workflow (like pen and paper) or an old-school software package to a brand new software tool like drill program management software is an exciting investment in your exploration team’s productivity.
Like any investment, it’s important to make an informed decision.
Here are 3 easy steps to follow to get this right so that you can nail the meeting and get the most out of your time.
- Identify your pain points
If you’re reading this article, chances are, you’re facing some kind of business problem that you’re hoping drilling software can solve for you.
Some common ones we hear include:
- low confidence in field and cost data
- siloed teams and ways of working
- unable to process data at the speed of the rig
- inconsistencies in drill program execution, data capture and analysis
- lack of visibility across the entire operations
- delayed reporting.
By being clear on what problem(s) you need to solve, you’ll be better placed to move into the next step without being distracted by flashy features or tempting price points.
It could be the best-looking or low-cost software package on the planet, but if it doesn’t solve the problems you need to solve, you’ll be back at step one again a few months - or years - down the track (minus any time and money spent trying to make it work!).
- Consider how a new software fits into your digital strategy (and if you don’t have one, it’s time to get cracking)
A digital strategy is an effective way for Managing Directors and Exploration Managers to guide themselves through a complex software evaluation and selection process.
It’s your company’s roadmap for how you will use digital tools and technologies to create a competitive advantage and adapt to the changing demands of the industry by leveraging the power of new and developing technologies to streamline your operations, increase efficiency, reduce costs and make better use of data.
Without a strategy, you risk being stuck with a heap of expensive tools and digitised data with no way of bringing them together. Like many explorers, this might be an issue you’re experiencing right now. This is a big problem for exploration teams because data is your only asset until you find a resource.
Read more about crafting a digital strategy for your exploration team on our blog.
- Know the right questions to ask
A 30-60 minute demo is not a lot of time to review a product that your team might use every day for the foreseeable future. So, it’s essential to go into the meeting with a clear plan to extract the critical information you’ll need to make your decision.
The questions you should ask will depend on the specifics of your business and what you’re looking for overall.
That’s why we’ve created a free downloadable guide listing the seven key questions you need to ask at a demo before signing on the dotted line, and how to personalise these questions to suit your business.
Download the free guide now (no email address or login required).
Drilling software in action: The Maronan Metals story
Drill program management software is configurable to meet the needs of any sized exploration team, including junior-sized companies. Maronan Metals is one of them.
The Maronan team take an agile approach to drill program design so that they don’t waste time or money on holes that won’t get the team closer to discovery. To do this, Exploration Manager, Andrew, needs real-time visibility into variable drilling costs to plan, budget and forecast confidently.
The problem Andrew was facing?
Like many Junior exploration managers, he was doing this manually on spreadsheets. And whilst the business wasn’t having to outlay cash on tools to help him with this, it was losing hours of his time that could have been spent on discovery.
Not to mention the inevitable frustration every exploration manager knows - having to go back and re-do work when drillers’ invoices don’t match up with your calculations.
So, on the recommendation of a former colleague, Andrew approached CorePlan to switch spreadsheets for automation so that he could gain instant insights into cost and performance, without the hassle.
“It’s a solution that pays for itself in time saved,” says Andrew. “The cost of CorePlan is less than the cost of our time previously spent having to manually count our costs and chasing up drill plods from all over the place.”
Try drilling software today
Ready to take the first step towards revolutionising your exploration operations with drill program management software? Book a demo now to see for yourself how this powerful tool can help empower your team to pursue exploration success.
Discover CorePlan’s drill program management software, Exploration Hub. The workflow management tool used by future-focused exploration teams like Chalice Mining, Dreadnought Resources, BHP and AngloGold Ashanti.