Australian METS target mining’s next horizon

Noble's VR crane simulator.

The mining industry continues to experience improved market conditions as we move to the midway point of 2018.

Buoyed by this renewed growth, mining companies are now seeking to invest in the areas that will produce the next wave of production gains and long-term growth.

Major mining companies have been speaking openly about current reviews of their core mining and business processes and are taking a broader approach that incorporates an assessment of enabling and disruptive forces to the future of the industry.

As a result, digital technology, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), machine learning and artificial intelligence, the next generation workforce and cyber security have all emerged as areas that mining companies are focusing more energy on. In the long run, this strategic review will lead to the realisation of mining’s next horizon.

Currently, we have seen such technologies implemented in the maintenance space, which has seen greater activity following the mining downturn.

According to McKinsey & Company, by unlocking the value of dormant data, the mining industry could generate an economic impact of $100 billion per year on maintenance alone.

Paul Higgins, CEO of Dingo, has ensured that his business is taking significant steps to lead a digital transformation in maintenance, believing that this begins by capitalising on available data.

“Extracting value from data is just as important as extracting resources from the ground. Miners have recognised that there is a tremendous opportunity to increase operational efficiency, reduce costs, and improve safety with Big Data if their teams can access it, understand it, and apply it to real-world situations,” he says.

Dingo’s Trakka cloud-based predictive maintenance software is continually evolving to make it easier to capture and analyse data and turn that into insights, actions and outcomes. Its ease of use is also critical, which is why Higgins has focused on instant intelligence everywhere.

“Mobile, cloud-based apps will deliver real-time access to insights that will drive better decisions — anytime, anywhere. The broad uptake of mobile apps to manage and act on information in peoples’ lives is creating the expectation that this capability should be equally available in the work environment,” Higgins says.

Finally, Higgins looked at the interplay between the human and machines to deliver maintenance gains.

“To ensure that its customers are benefitting from the latest technological advances, Dingo partnered with the Queensland University of Technology to build a collection of machine learning models that can predict failure of equipment with a high degree of accuracy. These models will continue to evolve and improve over time, and the outputs of the project are already being used by some of our customers to help predict the remaining useful life of major components,” he concludes.

According to Dingo, the key to developing successful solutions in this space is keeping people central to the process, which is a view shared by fellow Australian METS company Nobles.

The business focuses on improving safety procedures and systems in the maintenance space through operator training.

Keith Bishop, general manager of marketing at Nobles, discusses the breakthroughs the company has made in this space through virtual reality (VR) based simulators.

“Maintenance usually involves high-risk activities with heavy equipment, that are generally sub-contracted by the asset owner’s tier one maintenance contractor. A key challenge for the mine owners is how to best manage and mitigate this inherent risk,” Bishop says.

“Until now miners really have had no reliable way of knowing how experienced and competent their subcontracted operators are. Enter the new technology of portable, VR-based simulators, that combine the latest proven off-the-shelf VR technology with specialist, OEM-like hardware controls and advanced software.

“This produces an immersive, realistic and qualifiable simulated operating experience and quantitative assessment tool, at a much lower cost than a physical verification of competencies (VOC).”

This technology is being seen in action with Nobles’ ITI VR crane simulation, which can quickly screen dozens of operators through a repeatable, quantitative VOC testing process.

Whilst the current focus is on maintenance, activity is beginning to build in the design and planning space.

Minemax works closely with clients to optimise Net Present Value (NPV) of their projects and CEO, Jim Butler, is seeing significant changes occurring.

“More strategic options are being run than ever before as miners embrace internal and cloud-hosted high performance computing.

Companies want rapid economic evaluation of strategic options to inform high-value, company-critical investment decisions,” Butler says.

Minemax has responded to the demands of their clients and have implemented initiatives to meet changing industry requirements.

“We are making our strategic optimisation solution accessible in more diverse ways. This includes catering to on-demand needs for running large numbers of business and technical scenarios in a very short time frame, commercialising recent research and development into fast algorithms for strategic schedule optimisation and continuously rolling out stages of our long-term vision of a fully integrated and responsive mine planning solution that spans strategic down to operational planning,” Butler says.

The modern design and planning operations cannot be undertaken without consideration of the footprint of the mine. All effects of the mine’s construction, operations, processing and remediation must be considered to retain a social licence to operate.

Ezio Viti, sales director at Eriez Magnetics comments on the current compliance of concentrator plants with community expectations.

“The grade of deposits is declining; the availability of water is a premium and the cost of energy is spiralling. A typical concentrator requires about half the energy consumed in a mining project. The challenge for equipment manufacturers is to meet the needs of industry and allow its marginal projects to be viable while leaving a smaller footprint on the environment,” Viti says.

Eriez has developed the HydroFloat, specifically designed to float coarse particles and assist the industry in achieving lower energy targets.

“The HydroFloat achieves effective separation, delivering energy savings at the grinding stage and in the flotation process, which is about half the 10 per cent normally consumed in the concentrator. Resultant tailings are coarser, simpler to manage and easier to dewater,” Viti says.

Products such as this, will be key to continually improving environmental outcomes for the mining sector.

Whilst this is a great example of technology making step changes to mining’s environmental impact, environmental footprint must be viewed with a holistic lens to encompass various stakeholders across land operations, including tenements, property, native title, cultural heritage and environment.

K2Fly is leading the way here and account executive, Lexi Leonard, talks about optimisation of the space: “An integrated solution will enable real-time operational intelligence for planning, access, negotiations, operations, rehabilitation and closure.

Mining companies must leverage this through cloud scalability and locational intelligence to stand out as true and responsible corporate citizens.”

The good news for the industry is that Lexi believes this technology is available now. “Digital disruption in the ‘social licence’ value chain is happening today. Existing information silos are being broken down to deliver operational intelligence by combining disparate datasets from across the enterprise and public domain,” he says.

K2Fly’s Infoscope is a breakthrough technology for gaining valuable information about an operation’s footprint and social licence, overcoming traditional breakdowns of communication between core operations and community considerations.

The silos that Lexi mentions are moving to the top of the agenda for mining companies. Technology and advanced solutions have helped miners reach new heights for productivity, safety and cost reduction, but only within certain departments or projects onsite.

Mining businesses focus on the next horizon within the industry. They are placing considerable energy into investigating methods of improving interoperability of technologies and integrating the various departments of their organisations.

Gavin Knight, founder of Mystic Pants, an SME METS company that helps manufacturers connect into the IIoT, believes this vision is starting to arrive more broadly.

“The next horizon in mining will be an integrated mine site production system utilising generic AI, rolled up production systems data, safety data and process control systems data. It has been achieved in silo’s with Scada systems, engineering planning and autonomous vehicles, but the next phase is homogenising these outputs and overcoming vendor lock in,” Knight says. Mystic Pants is helping make this a reality by integrating disparate process control systems through collecting data parallel to existing process control systems, allowing direct and actionable insights without needing to replace existing infrastructure.

Taylor McKertich of Endress+Hauser echoes Knight’s comments about interoperability: “Relative to other industries such as manufacturing, the global average of Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) in mining is well below benchmark. The next horizon in mining is one where the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), big data analytics and human-machine interaction are brought together to optimise resource extraction and production efficiently, safely and sustainably.”

Endress+Hauser are world-leaders in the technology space and have solutions utilising the IIoT through inventory management, smart sensors and instrument integration. Taylor comments that continual innovation from service providers and suppliers, along with effective collaboration, will assist in integrating these technologies across the site.

Steven Weeks, commercial director, Paradyn Systems also comments on the matter, reflecting on work the company has undertaken to optimise the value chain: “Silo business drivers for mining (ROM tonnes), processing (plant utilisation) and marketing (revenue) only align with enterprise objectives (cash flow, NPV) when operational performance is low. Under high performance operating conditions, decisions guided by siloed KPIs will misalign with the interests of the group and erode value.”

He went on to describe how this situation is set to change in the future, “The advent of the cloud and AI is boosting supply chain software capabilities. The cloud, artificial intelligence and smarter algorithms are revving up the capabilities of pitto- port supply chain software.”

Paradyn’s BlendOpt software is an example of the greater power technology has enabled, which harnesses the cloud and artificial intelligence to run multiple scenarios in the supply chain and implement those on a daily basis.

Haydn Roberts, CEO of MST Global, perceives a similar future for mining to that described by Weeks.

“At MST Global we envisage the next horizon in mining as one that sees improved productivity and safety through a geospatially connected ecosystem of sensors, devices, edge computers and infrastructure (network or cloud). This journey of digitising the workplace takes us on a path to better real-time decision making (operational intelligence) to smarter optimisation (artificial intelligence) to full automation,” Roberts says.

However, in this landscape dominated by machines, Roberts cautions that the human element and interaction between organisations will be critical.

“However, within this ecosystem there will still be the need for humans to interact, meaning reliable voice and high-bandwidth data communications will remain mission critical. No one organisation can expect to deliver this ecosystem in its entirety, meaning collaboration, partnership and open standards will become ever more important if we are to make this happen. Gone are the days where one company can build it all themselves.

This is an opportunity for likeminded organisations to work on this journey together,” he says.

MST Global has practiced what is preached and developed unified communication systems that combine tracking and automation with cloud systems, along with entering into mutually beneficial partnerships.

“In surface mining, MST Global is working on a solution called ‘Fusion’ that will combine digital voice, data telemetry and tracking (both underground and surface) into a headless monitoring solution for a more affordable approach to digitising the mining workplace. This is being done in partnership with Tait Radio, an example of collaboration that is bringing a solution to market that neither party could have done by themselves without incurring longer lead times and cost,” Roberts says.

Whether its maintenance, mine planning, social licence, interoperability, or other areas of the mining process, the innovation, ideas and knowledge of Australian METS is a key resource for mining companies to tap into through partnerships.

Companies such as Dingo, Nobles, Mystic Pants, Endress & Hauser, Paradyn Systems, Minemax, MST Global, Eriez and K2Fly are all demonstrating a future-focussed strategy and are implementing technologies now that will lead to the next wave of operational improvements in mining.

Austmine will help our innovative METS member companies demonstrate these technologies at our Austmine 2019 Conference & Exhibition, which takes place from May 21–23 in Brisbane next year and has the overarching theme of “Mining Innovation: The Next Horizon.”

The advanced solutions on offer from Australian METS will be on show for the industry in the exhibition hall, whilst conference sessions offer the opportunity to be immersed in discussion about mining’s future.

Austmine is an Australian Mining media partner. This article also appears in the June edition of Australian Mining.