How Mines Can Go Digital, One Byte at a Time

Market volatility and cost pressures in the mining industry underscore the critical need for business intelligence to drive productivity, minimize losses, and create a safer working environment. Going digital is a no-brainer … but how do you get there? If the prospect of undertaking a digital transformation is overwhelming, it helps to break it down into individual solutions that you can implement gradually. Let’s explore 3 digital technologies, starting with the low-hanging fruit and moving in ascending cost order.

1. Digital Forms and Digital Conventional Maintenance

Description: Digital Forms allow field operators to access electronic versions of forms using their mobile phones or tablets, saving time and money on paper forms and streamlining MSHA compliance. Digital Conventional Maintenance refers to maintenance required at fixed intervals (for example, engine-hours or miles). Maintenance uses Digital Forms, with validations, during the sequence of activities associated with conventional equipment maintenance. 

Implementation effort: Both technologies are easy to deploy and require relatively modest investments. It takes only days to implement Forms and weeks to implement Maintenance. The required investment is reasonable: Forms can run less than the cost of upgrading your team’s laptops. If the hardware is in place, training would take less than an hour.

Benefits: Digital Conventional Maintenance would increase Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) by 15% to 20%. (OEE measures the percentage of total equipment available for duty).

GroundHog products: formHound and GroundHog EHS

2. Short Interval Control (SIC) and the Internet of Things (IoT)

Description: Two technologies that have proven themselves during the past 10 years, SIC and IoT can significantly increase haulage — the amount of ore, measured in tons, moved out of the headings. These technologies deliver value because they increase haulage without adding personnel or equipment. In a SIC system, a work shift is divided into short intervals of 10 or 15 minutes each; the data captured is used to “control” subsequent actions in the shift. In an IoT deployment, sensors, networks, devices, and computers work in concert to capture, analyze, and intelligently react to data in automated ways. Because all industries feel competitive pressure to leverage big data to derive business insights, IoT has become one of the hottest tech trends. 

Implementation effort: SIC has been a mainstay in manufacturing, and now the mining industry is starting to adopt it. Expect major mines worldwide to adopt some form of SIC within three years. SIC and IoT systems typically require two to six months to deploy and pilot. Costs can range as high as the mid-six figures.

Benefits: The right implementation can pay for itself many times over and drive a sustained period of success. SIC would increase OEE by 20% to 35%.

GroundHog products: GroundHog SIC and fleetAdmiral

3. Autonomous Vehicles and Predictive Maintenance

Description: The industry is spending billions of dollars to maximize safety and productivity. One overarching objective is to minimize the time miners need to spend in active mining areas. Autonomous vehicles (no human driver) hold enormous promise to improve safety by eliminating accidents caused by human error. The potential to accelerate productivity also is high because the operation is continuous; breaks are programmed for the least costly times by accounting for dependent activities within the mine. 

Predictive maintenance is performed only as needed, based on accurate assessments of how components wear down. Optimizing maintenance is an important balancing act: On the one hand, catastrophic failure must be avoided; on the other hand, big opportunity costs are incurred when a piece of equipment is removed from production more often than necessary. Of course, there are costs associated with the purchase and maintenance of standby equipment.

Implementation effort: Realistically, these two technologies are 5 to 10 years away from widespread adoption. They will bring high initial costs but also high ROI. Keep abreast of developments in these areas, particularly if you’re responsible for any mines expected to come online around 2025.

Benefits: The potential ROI is quite high. Adopting these technologies could increase OEE by 65% to 80%. More important, the potential impact on miners’ safety transcends mere numbers.

For miners, confusion and fear are detours on the road to full digitization. But GroundHog has the expertise to partner with you to formulate a digital deployment strategy that works for you. In fact, we’ve written all about it; download our ebook, “The Mine Digitization Blueprint.” 

About GroundHog SIC:

GroundHog SIC is a mobile fleet management system optimized for use in underground mines designed to work out of the box for all underground mine operations. GroundHog controls production, tracks and schedules workforce, and helps you get deep insights to drive higher process efficiency. With GroundHog, you can build a mine that is highly efficient, safe and profitable.

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Best Practices: Using Short Interval Control to increase production rates by increasing face and equipment utilization and reducing stope-to-stope cycle times. 

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