Within the metal and mining industry, digitalization and the Internet of Things (IoT) are growing trends that will change interaction with employees, communities, government, and the environment. They enable automation of repetitive processes; discovery of more cost-effective, accurate methods of exploration; reduction of manual intervention; and even more innovation.
From exploration and valuation, through mining, ore processing, and metals production, new capabilities across the entire lifecycle are challenging the business models of the past. Surveys show a 28% decline in mining productivity over the last decade. At the same time, 80% of companies surveyed are planning to invest in IoT, expecting a 24% higher operating margin by embedding results in business processes.
Here we’ll break down some of the challenges we typically hear from mining companies and show how innovation can help them overcome them. The technologies described here are not only game changers for overcoming current challenges; they will become a necessity for success because of operational efficiency gains from automation and real-time planning, mining operations optimization, asset lifecycle management, and much more.
Introducing new technologies can’t happen in isolation. The real business value comes from integrating digital assets and operations into overarching business processes, as shown in the examples below.
Example 1: Stockpile management
Challenge: Traditional survey methods are time-consuming, costly, and pose safety risks.
The frequency of stockpile surveys cannot be sustained through traditional methods like aircraft aerial surveys, laser scanning, or manual, onsite measurement with poles and GPS units. Stockpiles can have potential “cratering” and not conform to perfect shapes, and describing irregularly shaped stockpiles is difficult with estimates. In addition, production facilities often have to cease operations when survey crews are out.
Photogrammetry can do precise volume calculations, create contour lines, and conduct quality assessments with direct access to 2D and 3D models generated from automatic data collection. It allows users to import their own base surface (or ground-surveyed points, which form the base surface) and use it to calculate stockpile volumes. Extending the data flow into an ERP solution allows continuous updating of stockpile inventory to ensure the systems show and track the right quantity and values of material.
As a result, mine operations can build steeper slopes, ultimately displacing less rock, optimizing stacking and reclaiming, and reducing overall resource use. Precise stockpile measurement and volume calculations lead to more consistent inventory reporting into the company balance sheet, improved cash flow situations for accounting, higher efficiency in the supply chain organization, and better forecasting of the minerals available for sales.
Example 2: De-risking on blasting operations
Challenge: Monitoring blast sites at low cost, high accuracy, and in completely safe worker conditions.
Blasting operations affect all other associated subsystems, such as loading, transport, crushing, and milling operations. Misfire investigation, toxic fumes produced by detonating explosives in surface mining and construction operations, poses additional potential hazards to workers and the public.
Image processing, generating required point clouds, 3D models, and orthomosaics for the entire area of the blasting operations, takes only a short time, with a post-clearance 3D model generated to complete the cycle. Blast-hole monitoring would not only improve results in productivity, safety, and environmental impact, but integrating this data into an ERP would also allow for managing and tracking the consumption of explosives or other consumables. It could also increase accuracy of the bills of material (BOMs) used in production orders or help verify third-party invoices for drilling and blasting.
This process saves time, money, and resources, and includes measuring stockpile volumes and excavated material and locating boreholes for blast sites.
Example 3: Environmental monitoring
Challenge: Control erosion and contamination for active and abandoned mining sites.
Maps and surface models must be generated for monitoring and assessment of remediation. Drainage and contamination need to be permanently monitored long after mining sites are deactivated.
2D map and 3D surface models provide high-resolution reconstruction results to assist in decision making. In addition, point clouds and digital surface models help compute slope elevation, and simulations could be conducted to predict damage in the form of erosion, contamination, landslides, earthquakes, etc.
In advanced ERP solutions, you can capture and monitor the necessary actions to keep the environment safe.
Example 4: Geofencing
Challenge: Create virtual barriers to help prevent assets, devices, workers, and machinery from coming into unintended contact with hazards.
An essential part of monitoring and protecting your company’s equipment and fleet (as well as safely operating in confined areas) is knowing where they are and what they are doing at all times.
The fleet as a whole can become challenging when assets are not clearly identified or are misused, movement is not tracked properly, and entry and exit times are not logged correctly. Moreover, accident risk is a constant safety hazard.
Photogrammetry uses different modalities (e.g. drones) and imagery to acquire visual information converted into geo-referenced and measurable 3D models. The resulting 3D model of the site enables excavation that’s pre-planned by project engineers.
The output files create visuals of the new surface that should appear as a result of the excavation and are then loaded in “smart-excavators“ that use the information to create a geographical virtual fence around the hole that will be be dug. In this way, the smart-excavators create an off-limits area to prevent entry, thanks to the interaction between the geo-referenced surface model and GPS coordinates.
By applying digital technologies from photogrammetry and your ERP systems, you can achieve operational excellence through competitive differentiation. These digital technologies can change the way we do things in a digital world where technology is transforming mining. Model-company approach by Pix4D and SAP.
This article is the result of a joint collaboration between Thomas Odenwald from Pix4D and Ruediger Schroedter from SAP.