Staying on top of big data

How to effectively manage big data can be baffling for mining companies. An explosion of new technologies is being offered to the industry, giving mining companies the opportunity to analyse operations and equipment like they never have before.

But with the tech opportunity comes a new challenge: how do mining companies manage the data generated by these technologies to benefit the business?

Certain mining companies are overcoming this challenge better than others, according to Geoff Irvine, Rockwell Automation strategic account manager, Rio Tinto.

Irvine believes that, despite varying success managing big data to this point, the industry has become more open to exploring ways it can capitalise on the information being created by operations

“The most common projects for us (at the moment) centre on big data. Once the companies have their big data set up then it is about analytics for them,” Irvine, who was previously the Rockwell Automation mining industry leader, told Australian Mining.

“Getting the data is one thing but then analysing what it actually tells the company about their plant is another thing — it’s like a two-phase project.”

He said major mining companies were significantly more advanced in how they manage big data in comparison to smaller miners.

It was a necessity for major mining companies to be ahead of the big data curve as they moved first to introduce remote operations centres or autonomous equipment to their sites, he explained.

Irvine said moving to the analysis phase of a big data project had been the industry’s biggest challenge, but the major miners had showed how this could be achieved through their transition into a digital environment over the past decade. Many smaller miners, however, continue to grapple with the process.

The commodities downturn, in many cases, was the cause of their lag, with the economic impact of this period forcing companies to postpone or suspend big data projects.

“The smaller miners have struggled with ‘how do we get this started?’ or ‘what do we want to do?’ – that is the issue for them,” Irvine explained.

“I think the value of this for them becomes evident when they do some analysis, particularly on reducing downtime or unexpected failures.

“Anything you can do on the predictive side to avoid impending failure is important – if they do the right thing then there are not a lot of production outages.”

Rockwell Automation has worked with major mining companies on the installation of so-called enterprise historian systems, otherwise known as a production intelligence platform, for the management of big data, including at iron ore operations in the Pilbara.

The enterprise historian, installed at the end of 2016, uses FactoryTalk Historian Site Edition (SE) software from Rockwell Automation and the PI System from OSIsoft.

The combination provides visibility of real-time and historical production data across its integrated supply chain of mines, rail and port facilities.

The major miner gains access to reporting and trending tools that provide insight into performance parameters. The miner uses this information to identify opportunities to reduce variability, lower costs and improve productivity in operations and across the supply chain.

Many producers are now working on how to best leverage an intelligent automation infrastructure and the big data it produces, according to Rockwell Automation.

Irvine believes big data management will continue to grow in importance as modern technologies are implemented and new digital opportunities emerge.

Big data management will set the foundation for the application of new technologies as they become available, he explained.

“There will be a lot of disruptive technologies that come into play and we have already seen that with the use of drones and autonomous vehicles,” Irvine said.

“It looks like the whole business of remote operations is only going to get greater – at the moment it’s either on the iron ore or coal segment.

“I believe we are going to see remote operations across all segments. If we can do it for the iron ore operations in the Pilbara then why can’t we do it across all of our operations globally?”