Australian Mining speaks with several tech luminaries working in the resources sector to discuss the increasing prevalence of tech collaborations that are slowly but surely unpacking the industry’s analytical quandaries.
Analytics is the magic word of the moment; data is everywhere, and tech companies and businesses around the globe are falling over themselves to uncover the key to unlocking its potential.
The mining industry is, more than most, at the forefront of data analytics investment, with a series of high-profile tech collaborations having sprung up in the last year or so. But how can the sheer wealth of data generated by the mining industry be unpacked, distributed, interpreted and understood?
“Something like half a per cent of all data in the world is being analysed today,” explained John Duda, vice president, global solutions engineering at Birst, “so you can imagine even another half per cent would add so much analytic value.
“In the next few years I think there will be a hyper-accelerated pace of figuring out how to leverage as much data as we can to make better decisions because today there’s so much data that we don’t know how to consume it, how to store it and how to analyse it.”
Richard Mathews, chief executive officer and managing director of RPMGlobal, a mining software consultant that services both tier one global and smaller mining companies, possessed views along similar lines, having recently collaborated with Komatsu-owned MineWare to develop a real-time, ultra-short term planning solution utilising RPMGlobal’s XECUTE system.
Mathews said that without such collaborations, mine sites would become less productive overall, and that while integrated data and its expedient analysis was important as the industry transformed into a more autonomous future, there was still a lot of work to be done.
“Integrated data starts with integrated solutions and without integrated solutions, mining companies will struggle to reach the new levels of productivity, safety and efficiency that the digital mine offers,” he said.
Birst (a subsidiary of business tech giant Infor) entered into its deal with Pulse Mining Analytics for the purpose of workforce analytics. Ash Bosworth, director at the company, admitted that the pace of tech collaborations in the resources sector was fairly glacial.
“There’s a culture in the mining industry that everyone wants to be the first to be second,” he said, “and there’s only a few really big players with the budget to do really innovative stuff and have the megabucks to get things off the ground.”
Pulse Mining attempts to stand out from its competitors through the use of a heavily customer-focused USP: agile techniques that break down points into key deliverables and promise tangible benefits for operations within two weeks.
The company was attracted to collaborating with Birst on its proprietary business intelligence (BI) software due to its similar philosophy surrounding agile implementation, while Birst was likewise impressed with Pules’s pragmatic approach to data implementation for customers.
“It’s almost like a ‘fail fast’ approach,” said Duda. “Many analysts have recognised that 80-plus per cent of big data projects have failed in the past, and the big reason for that is that they are not tied to real business benefit. I think a great example of what Ash and team are doing at Pulse Mining is linking data back to business benefits.”
Birst didn’t have to use pitches or direct vendor presentations to attract Bosworth’s attention; as one might expect from a forward-thinking operation, Pulse Mining discovered Birst online, and was immediately attracted to its cloud-based, single end-to-end solution model — an effective one-stop shop for analytical models.
RPMGlobal has identified this kind of enterprise approach as key to mining’s future. According to Mathews, the meaning of the term ‘digital mine’ varies depending on who you speak to.
“Companies that take ownership of that space and realise the value of a true enterprise approach will be successful,” he said. “We have identified an enterprise approach as the key to the future of mining and have invested heavily, even during tough economic conditions, to become the leader in that space.”
Another recent tech collaboration paying dividends for its participants is the deal between Caterpillar and Minetec, a company brought on to help modernise Cat’s MineStar underground mining operations.
Dr Rory Linehan, executive general manager of Minetec, is originally from Dublin and has a diverse background in defence, aerospace, and now with his work at Minetec, the resources sector. He has been working at Minetec parent company Codan for four years — originally working out of the UK and now in Adelaide, where he has been living with his family for just over two years. Minetec’s collaboration with Caterpillar has seen him primarily responsible for the delivery of fast, real-time continuous underground asset tracking to Caterpillar’s business.
A few years ago, when Anglo American put out a market requirement for sub metre tracking for their underground mines in South Africa, six vendors around the world said they could do it; only three could demonstrate submetre tracking above ground, and Minetec was the only company that could demonstrate submetre tracking underground.
“And that is still the case,” he told Australian Mining. “It’s a unique capability — part of the challenge is not just delivering that kind of capability, but also realising the benefits in a real production environment.”
Of particular importance to Caterpillar was how data analytics could be used to invigorate the workforce, fostering a sense of (friendly) competition and vigilance among the staff. In the case of Pulse Mining, each crew received tailored multiple dashboards with large TV screens up in the office, each crew comparing themselves with other crews and fostering a healthy sense of competition.
Caterpillar’s MineStar system offers a comprehensive solution for open-pit mining that encompasses several programs, including Fleet, Terrain, Detect, Health and Command. Pulse Mining’s expertise in the comms and tracking space, as well as the application of a task management service built for scoping mines made it well suited for development of Cat’s MineStar for Underground expansion.
“The productivity has increased dramatically,” said Bosworth. “The cultural change of workers knowing they are being measured and unable to get around the systems introduced a change in attitude, and that’s just at one mine.
“A cultural change is required throughout mining organisations — which as you know are currently being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century with all the new things that are available. The use of such analytics is the vanguard for implementing change across the entire organisation.”
In the wake of the mining downturn, operators have become increasingly fixated with the areas of supply chain and logistics that were previously taken for granted, and in order to cut costs with maximum efficiency, operation optimisation will become increasingly essential. Bosworth predicts a sea change coming in the next few years.
“There’s gains to be had, especially combining data from all your sources and turning that into more real-time, decision-making information,” he said. “Such operators will gain much higher advantages in their mining processes than other players.
“The automation and analytics are the main areas that will bring them benefits. For the ones who aren’t on board, they’re going to get left behind quickly.”