For the past couple of blog posts, we’ve contrasted Manual vs. Digital in the areas of Shift Planning and Shift Allocation. So far, we’d say the case for Digital Transformation in mining is pretty strong. This time in our Mine Digitization and Automation series, let’s talk about data collection.
There’s very little in a mining operation that can’t be measured, and most of it is and always has been. The temptation is to focus on the stuff that “matters” – tonnes hauled or mucked/bogged, metres or feet drilled. After all, that’s what tells the story of production, and getting as much ore out of the ground as possible as quickly as you can is the name of the game, right?
Well, no. Nobody is going to complain about production increases, but minimizing variation from shift to shift is key. But to do that, you not only need data collection – you need to have the data where it can be easily found and analyzed. In mines that have not undergone any form of digital transformation, data is often shared verbally, then logged in spread sheets, then, ideally, shared with the appropriate individuals who can then make necessary adjustments based on the information. Lengthy and prone to error, but, so far, so good.
But that kind of data sharing will only go so far. Mining is a collaborative process, and if the information isn’t available to other departments, the wheels will eventually fall off the truck. The data gleaned from things like inspection checks, delays and downs, consumables used, tonnage, meterage, and engine hours, and general shift reports and especially safety data, are important to everyone. But if this information is captured manually in a paper-based system, how long does it take to be shared with the right people? How many calls? How many delays that could be avoided through timely communication?
Unlocking the Power of Digital
So why shouldn’t everyone get to see it in near real time, in one place? THAT’S that power that Digital unlocks. Imagine:
Automatically capturing inspection data in order to know how the equipment is likely to perform, or if maintenance is required and another machine should be assigned to the task.
Immediately knowing the length of delays and downs so adjustments to the schedule can be made, and the reasons can be assessed to determine what went wrong and may have been avoided. Receiving production data in real time. Understanding what machinery is available based on engine hours, when scheduled and preventative maintenance will occur, and being able to react to issues immediately and with the correct parts and tools. Knowing what consumables have been used, what needs re-stocking at the heading, and what needs ordering ahead of time. How long identified safety issues have been reported and time taken to address them.
With a digital system, real time communication between operators, supervisors, dispatchers, maintenance teams, procurement teams, and anyone else in your operation who needs to be in the know – YOU, for example – can occur in real time, whether via tablets, or directly from sensors.
The real strength comes in being able to analyze and compare data from shift to shift, even crew to crew, in order to ensure accountability, but also to understand if there is variation occurring and why, so that steps can be taken to plan for assurance that production levels remain at a comfortable and predictable pace. This ensures targets are set at achievable levels, reducing stress on your workers, machinery, and the cycle itself, that often results from a boom-and-bust rhythm.
In retrospect, it is less about data collection than it is about data sharing, and how simplifying your data sharing through digital transformation can and will improve your mine’s fortunes.
There will be a new topic in next week’s Mine Digitization and Automation series, so make sure you join us again.