With the mining industry transitioning to a digital environment focussed on safety, optimisation and efficiency, RPMGlobal chief executive officer Richard Mathews explains how his company’s technology can help mining companies accelerate their progress.
The mining industry is often shown at the bottom of technology adoption diagrams and commentators often refer to mining companies as extremely conservative rather than “early adopters”.
In the current world climate, it is now more important than ever for mining companies to review their existing technology to provide their staff with a connected and remote- enabled environment that enables them to work from anywhere.
Mathews explains that excluding specific endeavours like the push to autonomous vehicles, the slow uptake of technology across the mining value chain is not necessarily the industry’s fault given the lack of software vendor innovation over the last 20 years.
The difficulty comes from the fact “miners are not doing the same thing every day; they work in an ever-changing environment which is variable dependent on what they are extracting out of the ground,” Mathews tells Australian Mining.
“Miners are a little bit different to other consumers of technology in that they generally come from an engineering background, so they like to see things actually working before they are convinced. They don’t just want to understand how it works, they want to see it working.”
Because of this approach and the variability in mining, Mathews says software products need to be both wide and deep in applicability.
They also need to be spatially aware given miners must think in three dimensions. It is for these primary reasons that the industry has been dominated by desktop products which have little, or no integration.
Most of the desktop technical mining tools have the same 30-year underlying architecture that are based on fundamentally the same algorithms, code base and solution approach.
At the end of the commodity super cycle in 2013, RPMGlobal identified the need for a dedicated enterprise planning platform for the mining industry which was flexible enough to accommodate the spatial variability inherent in the mining process while catering for different commodities and mining methods.
Mathews says, “with this platform now complete, RPMGlobal’s customers are now able to work in a completely integrated and cloud-based environment. It’s rewarding seeing the industry adopting standards which enable data to be shared across users and divisions, both internally and externally, if required.”
Accelerating the digital transition
Transitioning to a digital based mine requires two things; enterprise software applications and a commitment by management to manage their mine differently.
“We have been building enterprise software for the mining industry for seven years now. We have been fortunate in that we were able to start development with a clean sheet of paper enabling us to use the most advanced technology and architecture,” Mathews says.
According to Mathews, most technical mining software products are still stuck on the desktop which means progress will continue to be slow given their lack of scalability and interoperable capabilities.
Most of the company’s products now have a 4D user interface which makes the product very visual, intuitive and easy to use. A big benefit of an enterprise product is it can be installed once, but deployed many times.
In a digital mining environment, it’s important to harness a product that adopts a parametric modelling approach.
If a user changes a design and/or scheduling parameter, the software will rebuild the model accurately in seconds rather than the user having to manually flow the changes back through the model which can take weeks.
This way, engineers can add real economic value through the timely analysis of options rather than spending their time changing data strings.
Rapid simulation uptake
Mining is an ever-changing environment where no one day is the same. This makes simulating a mining environment much more difficult than say a constant state manufacturing environment.
As there are many discrete events happening in a mine simultaneously, Mathews says it’s important that the software can accommodate all of these events accurately.
Mining is capital-intensive, and because miners spend heavily on mobile mining equipment for extraction purposes (drills, loaders, trucks, dozers etc.), there are considerable operational and therefore financial benefits available if organisations can accurately simulate different alternatives.
Six years ago, RPMGlobal started working with Volvo on building a comprehensive and accurate simulation product for mining. The first version of the product took many years and considerable investment.
However, a shift is now occurring and the world’s three largest OEMs have all decommissioned their internal products and adopted software with discreet event simulation capability.
The software can also be tailored for miners so they can simulate their own mines which may be using mixed fleets from different OEM’s.
Not only do these companies have a digital twin of their equipment and material movements, but they can feed this information in and out of their planning, maintenance and production systems if they want to.
As a result, there is no need to do physical trials which cost millions of dollars.
“The software is fully four-dimensional and highly visual which makes it both easy to use and easy to communicate with,” Mathews says.
Collaboration and safety are key in digitisation
Short-term scheduling solutions need to enable miners to maximise value by creating a live planning environment. This should utilise intelligent integration to connect planning with other teams within a mining operation.
“RPMGlobal’s short-term scheduling solution, XECUTE, takes the data from on-site devices and equipment and other software products and displays it in a visual environment in much the same way as a computer game does,” Mathews explains.
“All of the planning and production data can be displayed in one place so that everyone knows what the plan is and how progress in the mine is tracking against that plan.”
The scheduling solution is a key component of the connected mine whereby users can view activities in real-time so that they can make informed, timely decisions to maximise their mine operations inside a shift and planning window. This can be done on site or remotely, 1000 kilometres away.
A cutting-edge short-term scheduling solution is grounded in the ability to improve productivity and predictability through collaboration across the business, naturally leading to improved safety for workers on site.
This is not only due to the accuracy and constantly clear communication of the information but also because technology can assist operations staff to make decisions that remove people from potentially dangerous environments.
Enterprise products, by their very definition, are remotely connected systems which means people can use them and communicate from afar.
“While we are talking at the moment, there is obvious concern around the globe about the current environment,” Mathews says.
“Whereas we never thought about how our software could be used in the event of a pandemic to assist in social distancing and remote working endeavours, we always believed people would want to be able to operate remotely.
“As it has transpired, remote management has become an imperative rather than a nice to have.”
This article will appear in the May edition of Australian Mining.