Data to drive the next wave of mining optimisation

We’ve reached a tipping point in the mining sector, with availability and demand colliding to drive the next wave of digital investment.

With technology now providing the capacity to run a multitude of data-driven ‘what if’ scenarios in quick succession, the potential to deliver a step change in productivity and agility is unprecedented. In the new era, we can take the guesswork out of optimisation.

The interest in doing work more efficiently to tap into opportunities faster is not new. It’s just the payoff hasn’t been as evident to date. Taking 12 months to deploy a solution for optimising your supply chain raises the risk that the technology is outdated at launch. Alternatively, the business opportunity you were chasing may no longer exist.

That’s not an issue anymore because technology has caught up with business impulse. Rising data volumes and computational power are creating new possibilities for data analytics that were not possible before.

The ease of deployment and interoperability have also increased significantly making complex IT implementations much easier. The optimisation conversation is no longer limited to IT or engineering departments, it has escalated to the boardroom. The likes of McKinsey, Accenture and Ernst & Young have driven data and analysis into the core of productivity improvement.

This change is spurring new global initiatives as countries create campaigns to tap into the convergence of information technology and operational technology. In the mining and metals industry, digital transformation initiatives are forecast to generate $425 billion in value for the industry, its customers, society and the environment over the ten years to 2025. Including $190 billion for the mining industry specifically.

The US is leading the pack in the manufacturing industry, with 54 percent of manufacturers having smart factory initiatives in place. Germany has 46 per cent dedicated to what it calls Industry 4.0, and Australia is looking to adopt some of its best practices.

Scott Wooldridge

Countries such as China have a Five Year Plan for Smart Manufacturing where it seeks to transform the industry by 2025 completely. Overall, smart factories are forecast to add anywhere from $5 billion to $1.5 trillion to the global economy in the next five years.

There are easy wins to be had in manufacturing and mining because many of these companies already have industrial control systems generating massive amounts of valuable data.

Machines installed during the past 10 years are enabled for connectivity. The challenge now is to lay analytics and security capabilities over existing infrastructure, but it’s a shorter adoption cycle.

This is timely. After a period in which many miners invested a lot in technologies to support the functioning of remote operations centres and the optimisation of supply chains, the focus has shifted to squeezing as much output from individual mine sites as possible.

Amid a boom in demand, we see a trend towards miners doing whatever they can to optimise existing assets, keeping them running reliably and maximising uptime.

Part of what’s driving this is the realisation that with such technology investments, the potential to tap into transient opportunities – like selling into short-term markets at a far greater profit margin – becomes realistic. In the past, these opportunities were too difficult for some given the flexibility that they demanded.

This second wave of digital investment has also levelled the playing field for smaller players. With digital analytics, upfront costs are lower, and those with less baggage cam move faster. They’re using technology to differentiate from established players.

Beyond analytics to support preventative maintenance, we see a push to adopt mixed reality technology. This technology has enhanced the analysis by superimposing live data on top of an image of a conveyor or crusher.

Virtual reality is enabling those operating remotely to get a better sense of connection with the mining site, along with its physical scale and complexity, allowing for immersive training experiences.

At Rockwell Automation, we’ve seen deployments of our voice-activated Factory Talk Analytics solution – also known as Shelby – take just 15 minutes. Quickly identifying two or three fixable system faults has helped avoid costly factory shutdowns.

This type of visibility is applicable across a range of industries including mining. In some cases, preventing a shutdown means the equipment has paid for itself.

The willingness to learn from others is another new trend we’re seeing. This trend includes peers within the same industry but also beyond. For example, if data from other customer sites suggests that increases in machinery vibrations at a particular rate correlate to a six-week window before a crusher fails, we can start to have a more informed conversation and be more proactive about maintenance. It’s all correlated into a more extensive learning experience.

Going further, those in disparate industries are also taking an interest in what those elsewhere are doing to gain an edge. For example, a mining company and a dairy producer. We’re supporting this cross-pollination with data – our broad industry experience allows us to share this visibility with customers so they can dig deeper and discover more meaningful insights.

Supporting more intelligent mining operations is possible now – the technology is more cost-effective and easily deployed than ever. It’s time for the mining industry to look more closely at the rich data map at its fingertips. There’s a smarter, proactive approach to trends, opportunities, and risks.

Scott Wooldridge is Rockwell Automation managing director, Australia and New Zealand.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.