Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Numbers Game

So is he actually a threat? Or just a carebear who’s stared at an asteroid for too long?
—Sol, Clear Skies II
"Decent, honest, hard-working, G-d-fearing...oh yes, and profitable, too."

That was how my father described the life of an ore prospector when he agreed to put up the funds for me to attend the capsuleer's school at Hedion University. A traditionalist Khanid from a old and storied Unionist family, he didn't cotton to filthy notions like immortality-by-clone-vat, but he held it as G-d's own Wisdom from On High that there were two things that could wash away almost any impurity: hard work and profits. "Besides", he said, "if ye play it safe like I told ye and stick to Empire ores, not a one of them heathen 'capsuleers' 'll burn ye outta yer pod 'n' send me son's soul t' Hell."

Inevitably, I tired of staring at veldspar asteroids in Parses. Within a few months of graduation, the three sirens, arkonor, bistot, and crokite, called out to me from the null-sec Querious region. Just as inevitably, the predators that roam New Eden's wild frontiers caught me unawares one day, and I awoke in a clone vat, baptized anew in an unwholesome soup of biogenic goo. For a time I managed to hide from my father the fact that the fruit of his loins was now a frozen corpse slowly orbiting the RF-CN3 solar system—that the young man visiting him for the High Holy Days was a "G-d-cursed abomination". But then one day he happened to glance at my tablet and see an SCC email discussing the "recent renewal of your clone contract after a termination event." He never even so much as glanced at me one last time, just turned his back and said, "I don't know who ye are, but I'd take it as a kindness and a mercy if ye could leave me home presently and give this family time ta grieve the death of ouren son."

But enough of boring you to tears with sob stories. I just wanted to show you the kinds of thoughts that drift through a miner's head between strip cycles. Such woolgathering is the miner's worst enemy, for if it doesn't hypnotize you into forgetting to check your ship scanners, it turns you eventually to bloody-minded notions about hopping into a combat-ready ship and becoming a predator yourself.

There's one reliable cure-all for this mental malaise: calculating your profit margins. I'll use the Applied Physics Institute's little mining operation here in J124654 to show you what I mean.

Right now, my colleague Rol Prime and I are each in the driver's seat of a Covetor-class mining barge fit with three Tech-1 strip miners and two Tech-1 mining laser upgrades. Our mining lasers are trained on a big, fat arkanor asteroid, and we're busily transferring ore from our cargo holds to awaiting jet-cans after each strip cycle. Our third colleague, Amber Macx, is parked at the Ass End of Space HQ in an Orca-class industrial command ship, running two Mining Foreman Link modules, one of which allows us to get better range out of our mining lasers, and another which allows us to decrease their cycle time. So the question every miner wants an answer to while he's mining: How much isk are we going to make?

First, let's look at how much m3 in ore one strip is pulling in per cycle: roughly 1,160 m3 per 152 seconds. That's 7.63 m3 per second for one strip; multiplied by six (to account for the two covetors), we get 45.79 m3 per second. (Nota bene: These figures will vary, of course, according to your particular set-up.)

Now we need to find out how much isk we're making per m3. Checking the orders on, we see a plethora of prices we could arguably plug into our calculations. Which ones to use? For the sake of convenience, and because we don't know where our static low-sec wormhole will lead us to, let's assume we're operating in Jita. Should we use buy orders, or sell orders? If you don't care when you get paid, and if you don't mind monitoring the markets in The Forge, then by all means use the lowest sell order prices. Personally, I like getting paid right away, and I can't monitor Empire markets from out here, so I'm going to use the highest, large-volume buy order prices: 3,030 isk per unit of megacyte, and 1730 isk per unit of zydrine. (We're not going to worry about the price of the tritanium we refine from this ore, as it will be several orders of magnitude less valuable than the megacyte and zydrine.)

Plugging our values into Grismar's invaluable ore chart yields an isk/m3 value of 405.28. Now, 45.79 m3/second times 405.28 isk/m3 yields a total of 18,557.77 isk/second. We're not quite done, however; these values are only true if we get a perfect refine on our ore. Rol Prime, a master refiner, could manage a perfect refine if he were using top-of-the-line station equipment in Empire space owned by our very good friends, the Royal Khanid Navy. But J124654 is a long way away from His Majesty's RKN, which means Rol Prime is stuck with our sub-standard Medium Intensive Refining Array, a fact Prime never ceases to remind me of.

A common misconception of these mobile "intensive" refineries is that they regurgitate a 75% refining yield no matter what kind of refining skills you have. As Prime once indignantly reminded me, this is absolutely false. If, like me, you're the kind of person who hasn't a clue what's the difference between distillation and fractionation, and wouldn't know a crystalline-based refining process if it bit you in the ass, then pressing the "Refine Now" button in the control room of an array will produce a singularly craptastic result. Take it from me: Don't do it. Make sure you have a master refiner managing the process in order to ensure a respectable 75% yield.

Getting back to our calculations. Seventy-five percent of 18,577.77 isk/second is 13,918.33 isk/second. Multiplied by sixty seconds and then sixty minutes gives us a total of about 50,105,988 isk/hour. Not too shabby. "But, but, but" you say, "I can make XX percent better with two hulks, modulated strip miner II's with crystals, mindlinks, Rorquals, Harvester Drones, refining in stations" etc. etc. ad nauseam. Yes, indeed you could. But what will happen to your bottom line when a predator's missiles, lasers, and drones catch you unawares and turn all that fancy gear into scrap metal? And believe you me, it will happen. If you're lucky, it won't happen often enough to put you in the poor house, but I've never been one to count on luck overmuch.

There are only two more potential bottlenecks between you and your isk in this whole process. I'll discuss the first, refinery operations, here, and I'll leave the other one, getting the goods to market, for my next entry.

A Medium Intensive Refining Array processes 25,000 m3 of ore in 90 minutes. (Its larger cousin, the Intensive Refining Array, does 75,000 m3 in 180 minutes but can only be onlined at a large control tower, due to CPU/Powergrid issues.) Let's take our isk/m3 value for arkonor (405.28) and multiply it by the biggest sized refine we can process in the medium array (about 22,500 m3). That gives us 9,118,800 isk per 90-minute refinery cycle. As you can see from all the above, we can mine 50 million isk in ore per hour, but it takes us 7.5 hours to refine that much ore.

It's not as bad as it sounds. Running a refinery process is a relatively hands-off affair compared to mining. All Prime has to do is show up every hour-and-a-half to empty the processed minerals from the refinery and flip the switch to start the next batch. I like to think of the refinery as a 9-to-5 factory. It churns out about 50 million per day, as long as I keep fueling it with ore. Therefore, I only need to do about one hour's worth of arkonor mining per day to keep it fueled. (This has the added benefit of lowering my risk profile by putting my Covetor's and Orca-hauler in harm's way for as little time as possible.)

So there it is: 50 million isk per day. One-and-a-half billion isk per month. It's not the Comstock Lode or El Dorado (a couple of pre-Eve Gate legends I read about the other day). But for our small operation, it will do quite nicely.

No comments:

Post a Comment