The Digital Mine: Automation, Tech, Big Data, And Analytics Fuel Growth

Samir Damag

06 Nov 2013 --- Dumper trucks in surface coal mine --- Image by © Monty Rakusen/CorbisRapid change is happening in the mining industry, as companies assess how to use new technology and embrace digital transformation.

Analytics programs capture and crunch data from many sources and build real-time dashboards. These tools allow decisions that had formerly taken weeks and months to be done in minutes and hours.

Output volume has long been the measure of mining success. Today, companies use technology to coordinate demand and production and improve yield. Better operations and control systems than ever are possible. That means companies must invest in tools and analytics that will allow them to become a modern digital mining company.

Transformation drivers

There are six main drivers of transformation in mining:

  1. Productivity. Mining is still an intensely capital-driven business. The evolving business requires new technologies to improve operations, including drilling, blasting, and material hauling.
  1. Automation. More devices today are equipped with sensors to track, measure, record, and send data. Sensing machines now allow for driverless trucks, trains, and detection devices. Used correctly, these will reduce safety risks. Labor shortages on remote sites will not be as detrimental to operations. Retrained employees can manage machines remotely, from a safe distance.
  1. Innovative technologies. As wreless devices and sensors become more affordable, firms are using existing tech in new ways. For example, some companies use gaming software to train workers using virtual simulations.
  1. Compliance. With increasing local, state, and federal regulations, compliance is a key driver. Technology makes operations safer and allows for better data collection and reporting on environmental, health, and sustainability issues.
  1. Sustainability. Environmental issues are driving change. Water usage guidelines add costs and are a big risk to the viability of existing mine sites. Energy demand is shifting away from carbon-based and nuclear products and toward renewable energy models.
  1. Cybersecurity. With increasing use of smart products and massive databases, the risks are heightened. Along with virtual threats, device-equipped tools are at an increased risk of physical theft.

Bonus: Click here to learn more about Digital Transformation in Mining

Let’s take a look at some examples of how digital transformations are taking place.

Real-time operational decisions

To improve operational performance today, increased technology use is a given. Radio-equipped mining vehicles and personnel tracking devices can feed data to central databases. Software systems use provided data in sync with mapping, modeling, and estimation data.

All this information is sent via inexpensive wireless networks, resulting in more accurate projections. Production management dashboards and analytics are fed to the work site, where workers can access the information on mobile devices for fast, data-driven decisions.

Big Data and modeling drive discovery

Perhaps one of the greatest threats to mining today is the dwindling supply of Tier 1 mining sites. Declining yield and poorer mined product grades compound the scarcity issue.

To reduce costs, firms need better information about where and whether to dig, with fewer unknown factors when looking for ore deposits. Technology is making those decisions easier and faster.

One example is assay analysis. Geologists no longer need to wait months for results. Apps let equipment and staff send data from remote locations to servers in the cloud.

This information on field operations, safety, maintenance, and drilling performance is critical. It can then be augmented by information on mine planning, ventilation, safety, rock engineering, and mineral resources.

This metadata allow mine employees to make much better choices about site selection. Results from those activities are merged with supply costs and market pricing. This mega metadata then informs future decisions at that site or similar ones.

What digital transformation means for mining

Transformation needs to infuse all areas of mining companies. Business models must reconsider approaches to work. Processes need to be reevaluated. Workers need to interact in ways that break down silos.

Consider production assumptions. In a new demand-driven model, factors like weather, competition, and supply availability play critical roles. Production could respond to customers and markets more quickly than in supply-side models.

Collaboration also must be embraced fully. Data should be shared with suppliers and customers, even competitors. Orders of blended products are possible when working with other firms. Equipment makers seeing analytics may recommend new procedures and change future versions of products.

Sustainable sourcing of water and energy can be tracked in real time. Supply chains will be more agile, responding to real-time transmissions. As work site changes are made on the fly, supply procurement can and must change as well.

The digital mine is safer. Remote control centers can be thousands of miles away. Smart machines will diagnose problems or needed maintenance and send data wirelessly. Hazard and gas detection can be fully automated.

Unified training programs can be accessed remotely. As more mining workers are contractors, training remains consistent. Certifications and qualifications are standardized across the firm.

Back-office functions also improve, with tasks such as invoicing and payment processing becoming more automated and less dependent on manual labor.

Conclusion

The digital mine is here. Technological innovations allow mining companies to be more nimble and profitable. Transformation is vital to future success, especially given growing price pressure and poorer material quality. Companies that embrace digital transformation will be best suited to leverage technologies for healthy gains.

Join a LiveTwitterChat on digitalization in mining on May 4th from 10-11 a.m. EST: #digitalmining

The global mining and metals industry comes together to discuss the impact of digital innovation July 12-14 at the International SAP Conference for Mining and Metals in Frankfurt, Germany.  Find out more and register. Don’t miss this opportunity to meet with world leaders and learn how your organization can become a connected, digital enterprise.

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Samir Damag

About Samir Damag

Samir Damag is solution manager for the Mining and Metals Industry Business Unit at SAP. He is responsible for assessing customer and market requirements and supporting mining and metals strategy for SAP. Through co-innovation projects with customers and partners, he is discovering key trends and best practices in the application of new technologies for the mining and metals industry.