An Industry-wide Information Investment

Steve Fiscor

More recently, the mining industry has been accused of being slow to adopt technology. Go figure. That might be true when mines and mills are compared with modern factories that churn out products with automated precision in a controlled environment. Many mines and processing plants, however, operate under extreme conditions and I would argue that todayís mining engineers are the best at adapting new technology to processes that vary with each siteís specific conditions.

This month, three of our features, Grade Control, Implementing the Internet of Things and Instrumentation, discuss the use of technology to improve safety, efficiency, operating costs and the environment. The grade control article discusses several software packages that allow mine planners and others to better visualize the data and make informed decisions about production process. Converting information into a digital format, or digitalization, could allow an existing mine to optimize operations, or it could help a company choose the right mining method before ground is ever broken.

The IoT revolution began about four years ago. Itís usually described as the convergence of information technology (IT) with operations technology (OT). Initially miners were using the technology to warn maintenance planners of problems such as vibration with rotating parts or temperature increases on bearings or pumps. Then they began to integrate the technology with enterprise systems so it could automatically order that replacement bearing and schedule the best time to swap it. Think of it as Google or Alexa for the mineral processing plant. Today, the sophistication level has grown with the evolution of inexpensive sensors and software to remote site monitoring along with remote operations and maintenance support.

Industrial IoT is growing fast and it will also be a catalyst for major industry changes, which Accenture predicts will add $14 trillion to the global economy by 2030. Combined with remote operations and support, IoT investments will be worth more than $1.4 trillion by 2030, according to McIlvaine Co.ís Industrial IoT and Remote O&M. Asset management will be a near-term achievement, but in the longer term, IoT will transform the processing industry and allow individuals to focus on problem solving and collaboration as machine learning advances. The mining industry alone is expected to invest more than $50 billion in IoT by 2025.

What happens when engineers can make side-by-side comparisons of multiple processing systems and facilities? They can identify both positive and negative trends. The Instrumentation article covers Valeís discovery and decision regarding nuclear densitometers. They evaluated whether they needed the devices, if feasible replacement technology existed and environmentally sound disposal strategies. Itís great food for thought from one the worldís largest mining companies.

If your team hasnít yet embarked on this technology path, you shouldnít feel isolated or behind the times. Itís estimated that only 5%-10% of mining operations worldwide are using the available technology to its full extent. The investment is a fraction of the savings that will be harvested through optimization. There was a time when optimization was code for cutting costs, but soon mines will be investing in optimization if they have not started already. Ultimately, the big winners will be the engineers and technicians who accept this technology as it will allow them to do their jobs better and spend more time reading E&MJ.

Steve Fiscor, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, E&MJ

As featured in Womp 2017 Vol 02 -