The mining industry is going through a bleak phase. According to a World Economic Forum report – ‘Digital Transformation Initiative Mining and Metals Industry’, sluggish global demand growth, cost volatility, increasing resource nationalism & regulation coupled with workforce skill gap and low productivity has resulted in a steep decline of profit margins. With no signs of changing trends, mining companies are increasingly under pressure to optimize operations & reduce costs.
The report by World Economic Forum also predicts that digital transformation in the mining industry is expected to generate more than $425 billion of value for the mining industry over the next 10 years. With the advent of IT in operations and the possibility of a digitally connected mine, mining companies are heading towards digital transformation both above and below the ground. According to a recent survey by Accenture on digital technology in the mining industry, 82% of the executives said they expect an increase in investment in digital technology over the next few years.
The mines of the future are expected to be closely interconnected, constantly communicating entities that will give you real-time visibility and control over your mine. These mines will store and share terabytes of data that will help you analyze & optimize mining operations. With powerful data collection and real-time performance tracking, digitization offers visibility into all aspects of mining from production to profitability & more importantly promises improved safety at work and reduced environmental impact.
In this article, we explain the 4 factors that are driving digital transformation in the mining industry and how they help achieve operational excellence.
Traditionally, mining operations have been carried out by human-controlled machinery. Each task performed generates terabytes of data that can be used to improve operational efficiency and increase productivity. Traditional sensors embedded into these machines result in data loss due to their inability to convert data into a digital format.
With smart sensors & smart portable devices, mechanical data collected during each operation is converted digitally and processed to gather real-time insights.
Modern mines have to be digitally connected. The data collected by each machine should not be siloed, and exchange of data between devices needs to happen in real-time. The information transmitted can enable proactive control of mining operations.
Wireless communication in underground mines has always been a challenge, with technologies such as peer-to-peer ad-hoc data networks, devices can still transmit data in near real-time with individual pieces of equipment relaying information with each other. With digital connectivity, supervisors can easily track the location and performance of every machine in the mine.
Data Analytics & Intelligence
Operational excellence within mines can be achieved only by making sense of the different data sets collected. With machine learning and big-data analytics, data collected from different machines can be processed accurately to deliver insights.
Insights from the data collected will give visibility to the operating performance of the mine and can be further drilled down to the performance of individual operations and machines. Advanced analytical techniques will also help identify trends and relationships between different processes and their inter-dependencies.
Over and above performance monitoring, the data collected will also help in planning, scheduling & operation optimization. Predictive modelling & production forecasting with real-time data allows supervisors to keep regular checks to ensure production needs are met.
Data from individual machines help reduce unplanned downtime by predicting maintenance support and automatic schedule revisions to ensure optimum productivity. With simulation modelling, project supervisors can test operational changes in a virtually simulated environment and calculate production performance without making changes in the live working site.
Though slow to adopt, digital transformation in the mining industry is gaining momentum. With the ability to monitor and optimize mining operations in real-time and predict production performance, mining companies now see real value in going digital and are aligning their strategy to incorporate digital innovation. Mines of the future will become safer, more sustainable, environment-friendly & responsive to global changes with new investments in digital technology.