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23 May 2019 - Company & Industry News, Event News by Alison Atkins

Digital transformation and the evolving mining tech ecosystem

When you’re immersed in a long-term project, it can be easy to forget how far you’ve come. That was driven home at the Digital Mine Conference held in Perth on 10-11 April 2019. It was an excellent opportunity to hear from the industry and Government about the current state of the digital mine, where we need to go, and how to get there. It was also a chance for my colleagues at acQuire and me to reflect on our role in digital mining.

The two-day program, Building Fully Autonomous Mines from Pit to Port, was designed for professionals in the mining industry to learn more about the latest technology and digital innovation. Along with case studies from miners, presentations by vendors and technology companies were featured at the conference, to show how they’re supporting miners heading towards the future of mining.

Capabilities of the digital mine of the future

The Hon Bill Johnston MLA, Minister for Mines and Petroleum for Western Australia, defined the digital mine of the future as having four key elements

  1. Interoperability – Integrated data platforms to support all mining processes across all time horizons
  2. Forecast capability – The ability to predict future outcomes based on insights derived from historical analytics
  3. ‘Back cast’ capability – The use of data to analyse and report trends, patterns and learned experiences
  4. Real-time analysis – Sensor data provides more control and accuracy across the whole supply chain.

Without technology integration, or what is commonly referred to as interoperability, the ability to use data at maximum effectiveness is limited. Data is being collected from so many different sources, and being able to rely on this data and use it effectively is key. With greater connectivity across the spectrum of mining systems, data can be used for highly accurate real-time analysis, to forecast what’s ahead and to ‘back cast’ or use historical data to see where you’ve been.

A digital Mine of the future

Image source and credit: Slide from presentation deck of Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston.

What’s exciting is the impact this will have on the business of mining. It is predicted that by 2025, the speed of decision-making assisted by interoperability means decisions could be made in microseconds. Due to the accuracy resulting from a single source of truth in your data, it also means higher profits and lower production costs. According to a report from McKinsey and Company, a 60% increase in profits and a 20% reduction in the average cost per tonne is achievable.

The news gets better for those of us working in the industry. Automated mining in the future will enhance what miners do. When the digital mine is fully realised, miners will spend double the amount of time solving problems and 77% more time using STEM skills in their job. They’ll spend less time wrangling data and more time working on the problems of mining. I don’t know a miner or mining company who wouldn’t welcome this change. Digital mining becomes an enabler for the mining professional, not a replacement of skills.

So how do we get there?

Michael Place, Unit Manager: Projects at Gold Fields Australia provided a word of caution in his presentation. He gave a case study of Granny Smith Gold Mine IIoT Deployment Strategies and provided savvy advice about technology.

“Having a solid deployment strategy and integration capabilities are key when selecting a technology,” Place said.

It’s easy to get excited about the prospects of digital mining but, like every other aspect of an operation, technology must be carefully thought through and planned to reap full benefit.

In addition to the need for interoperability and accurate data, automation is an essential step to becoming a digital mine of the future. Rio Tinto has been a pioneer in mining automation and shared their experiences in two separate presentations.

  • Alastair Mathias, General Manager – Automation & Technology, Productivity & Technical Support presented on “How Rio Tinto Realizes Major Benefits in Automation, From Autonomous Drilling to Driving Trains”
  • Hume Saunders, Manager – Automation & Technology Platforms presented on “Mining Robots: New Autonomous Drilling Delivering Significant Gains in Blast Accuracy and Drilling Performance While Driving Improvements in Productivity and Safety (Plus New Advances in Drilling Tech)”

All these presentations spoke about the importance of having a clearly defined path and getting buy-in from senior management to support long-range vision and goals. In a sure sign our industry is maturing in its pursuit of the digital mine, David Farr, CEO, Emerson Automation Solutions, echoed the same advice in his presentation titled “Harnessing Digital Transformation to Achieve Top Quartile Performance in Mining”.

Incremental success is key

I appreciate David Farr’s pragmatic approach to digital transformation because it gives everyone confidence you can experience the benefits of the digital mine as long as you’re patient. It’s not something that’s going to happen in the blink of an eye – for miners or technology vendors. The main thrust of his advice was to:

  • Plan incremental steps in your roadmap where you can implement and build on each step over time
  • Get started – the sooner you do it the better off you’ll be
  • Have a clearly defined roadmap; it’s the key to success.

acQuire has developed a technology roadmap that’s been our guiding light as we pursue our vision for the digital mine of the future. The most recent and future versions of our software encapsulate the necessary and important steps, ensuring we are on top of the rapid advancements continually occurring in technology. This allows us to keep up with the requirements of our customers as they evolve and more forward.

But more than that, we want to take each of our customers along the digital mine journey with us. We recognise that no one has the luxury to take a big-bang approach. It’s essential we collaboratively work towards this in stages and no-one gets left behind. Regularly updating software as it’s released is more vital than ever so you can maintain competitive advantage in the marketplace. Interoperability, automation and data management are quickly becoming the price of entry for modern mining.

acQuire is on the right path to the digital mine

As someone who has worked on both sides of the equation – as a miner and as a supplier of technology to mining companies – I was encouraged to see the industry come together in recognition of the importance of cross-company cooperation. Interoperability is essential to the future of mining and it’s going to require mature technology partnerships between suppliers. The best way we can service our customers is by anticipating and alleviating any difficulty they may encounter in their technology landscapes. We want to help miners spend less time manipulating data and more time making decisions based on the data for their mining operation.

In many ways, the information presented at the Digital Mine Conference was nothing new; it’s what we’ve been working towards for 23 years at acQuire. We took an early view on the importance of interoperability and have been fostering relationships and creating technology connections with hardware and software companies ever since. These relationships are not built overnight – neither is technology integration or the APIs to support them.

It was particularly encouraging to hear the consensus view that while none of this will happen quickly, it’s essential to get started and keep chipping away at it incrementally. That’s where software development and mining are a lot alike – the road is long but requires consistent and continual effort to successfully arrive at your destination.

Find out more

You can find out more about our GIM Solution and GIM Suite software and how this is being developed for smarter, streamlined software by visiting our GIM Suite page or reading our case studies. You can also contact our team to find out how we are moving forward and how we can help you

About the Author
Alison Atkins

Alison is the CEO at acQuire. She is based in Perth, Western Australia and leads the sustainable business philosophy for the values-based company. Alison has been with acQuire for over 16 years, and has a background in geology working in exploration and mining in Australia and West Africa.

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