Australia’s mining industry continues to recover from the downturn in commodity prices that led to widespread organisational restructures and a new-look market environment.
Most mining companies have committed to a similar strategy aimed at reducing their capital expenditure, while also improving operational efficiencies and lifting productivity.
Despite an improvement in market conditions over the past year, ongoing fluctuations in commodity prices have demonstrated that instability remains the norm for the industry.
This means the focus on maintaining a low-cost profile, improving efficiencies and adding productivity will be critical for mining companies in the years to come.
Digital technologies for the mining industry have rapidly evolved and provide a variety of solutions to help organisations achieve their strategic goals.
A study by consultancy McKinsey found that the potential economic benefits generated by digital technologies will be worth $370 billion a year by 2025.
“When we look at the areas where digital technology can have the biggest potential impact, we have operations management right out front. Therefore, it is essential and beneficial for mining companies to connect their key assets; processes, people and technology,” Doug Warren, vice president, software – industry solutions at Schneider Electric, told Australian Mining.
Warren highlighted the four key areas to enhance performance in mining operations:
According to a report by EY, productivity improvement is listed as one of the top three concerns for mining executives. This is a tell-tale sign that most mining companies have yet to reach the maximum sustainable throughput in their operations.
“Firstly, how do we stabilise the overall operation, from drill and blast, to loading and hauling, to processing and into logistics?” Warren asked.
“How do we analyse the downtime events and reduce the ones that are most prevalent?”
Warren explained: “Digitisation allows us to make continuous efficiency improvements by analysing production downtime causes and prioritise maintenance, new equipment, and new operating procedures, and this will result in a stabilised production at near maximum sustainable rates for the entire operations.”
Value chain optimisation
Historically, the mining value chain has been structured in a siloed approach. Mining companies have already implemented point solutions in their operations; however this does not provide complete visibility in its end-to-end operation.
“Digital technology has the potential to bridge this siloed process by employing supply chain management tools to efficiently generate schedules and plans, thus increasing production performance and providing insights to better understand deviations between operations and planning functions,” Warren explained.
“Having visibility into the entire value chain, by taking the entire system into account, from raw materials to market, and putting them into a production context allows mining companies to best capture the resource-to-market opportunities.”
Asset performance management
Mining companies have been rolling out maintenance programs, based primarily on standard preventive or condition-based reactive processes, where regular schedules are set on all the major equipment regardless of its condition.
“Digitisation pushes the maintenance initiatives to the next level by providing intelligence to the program,” said Warren.
“By applying advanced analytics and machine learning, it delivers improved asset health, better OEE and less downtime, and early warning signs of equipment health, through data collection, aggregation, and analytics.
Moving to a far more knowledge-based model allows mining companies to manage the performance of critical assets, like crushers and ball mills, ensuring they are functioning at an optimal rate.”
Digital disruption is impacting workforces in all industries. Mining companies need to determine how best to leverage digital tools and drive the maximum benefit out of it.
“To support the mining workforce of the future, companies should embrace technology to create a safe and efficiency environment,” Warren continued.
“Do workers need to be at the mine site to be trained or manage the entire operations? Advanced learning techniques such as training simulators, and augmented or virtual reality are safe training alternatives. Enhancing mobility has emerged as an important aspect for the next generation worker. Digitisation allows the workforce to remotely manage assets and operations from an urban location.”
EcoStruxure for mining
Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure for Mining, Minerals and Metals, is a new system architecture that leverages innovative digital technologies and the IIoT to allow companies to seamlessly connect, collect, analyse and act on data in real time to improve safety, efficiency, reliability and sustainability.
The EcoStruxure integrates innovation at three levels – Connected Products, Edge Control, and Applications, Analytics, and Services.
It redefines automation and power connectivity as well as adding an unprecedented layer of software applications and services to help mining customers get the most of their assets.
The EcoStruxure for Mining, Minerals and Metals provides added value in three key areas – digital supply chain, next generation workforce, and operational excellence.
By leveraging this transformation, Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure for Mining, Minerals and Metals helps mining customers improve how they manage their operations and plants to improve the bottom line.
This article also appears in the November edition of Australian Mining.