As mining company profits continue to be affected by the uncertainty in the global economy, the industry is on a quest for innovation to help increase productivity
The mining industry tends to be slow in adopting new technology, but given the state of the industry, change is paramount in order to survive. By employing new technologies used by other industries, mining companies can better manage their businesses and their bottom line. We can learn from the way other industries use innovative technology to improve mining.
New applications such as advanced simulation and 3D technology, as well as ‘big data’ and the interoperability of systems, must be used at each stage of the mining cycle to improve output levels. Bold moves are needed to propel the industry forward.
Agile and sustainable
To understand where mining can look for inspiration, it is useful to examine what has led to successful transformations in other industries. Take, for example, Toyota – it became the world’s largest and most successful producer of automobiles by becoming an agile business, one that rapidly adjusts itself in light of changing demand and economic conditions. In essence, Toyota put the framework in place to become a much more sustainable business. It started at the very bottom of its business by establishing operational stability to gain better control over manufacturing processes.
To become agile and sustainable, mining companies need to achieve operational stability – the predictability of expected mine production, costs, and performance levels. This requires mining and plant processing activities to function at higher levels of productivity and efficiency so that conformance to plan is always realised.
The quickest avenue to improved operational stability begins with reducing the variability in the planning and execution of mining and processing, which requires comprehensive planning, optimised scheduling, and disciplined work management.
Stability increases throughput, reduces waste and associated costs, and ensures production and quality targets are met. The key lies in harnessing operational data. While ‘big data’ may be produced in mining in terms of volume, it must become visible, analysable, and be made actionable to executives, mine management, and frontline workers. If it is, the path to ‘mining execution excellence’, and eventually business agility, is paved. Adopting technology from other industries is one of the most important requirements to begin the journey.
Establishing predictability in operations is the first step towards transforming mining businesses in a meaningful way. Without control over operations, attempts at becoming agile may not deliver the desired value. If mining businesses do not understand how healthy their operating processes are (including their inputs, plans, equipment, labor, and supporting activities), and how well they are functioning in the now, they will continue to waste resources (capital, equipment, labor, and even the mineral assets).
Decades ago, the manufacturing industry established processes and systems to support operational stability, thereby setting a foundation for agile decision-making and dramatic transformations. Today, companies from a wide variety of industries can design, simulate, and manage their businesses by leveraging seamless collaborative environments, connecting their operations, employees, suppliers, and even their customers. This technology exists today for mining companies, if they choose to embrace it.
One of the most significant challenges mining operations face is conformance to mine plan. Achieving it often requires scrambling to make up shortfalls and increasing expenditures. Significant productivity benefits can be gained by reducing instability. If planning and operational data is used effectively, it can provide rapid insight into how well activities are performing, enabling fast adjustments as operating conditions change. The analytics that operational data enables will also drive continuous improvement.
Mining Execution Management Systems/Mining Operations Management (MES/MOM) platforms, which integrate data from every mining data source on the site, enable superior work management through increased visibility and control over performance. Companies can expect up-to-the-minute tracking and management of mining and processing activities, equipment, maintenance, labor, support, and other inputs and outputs.
MES/MOM capabilities are found in Dassault Systèmes’ ‘Perfect Mine and Plant’. Perfect Mine and Plant has been used across multiple industries where MES/MOM has played an enabling role in conformance to plan by reducing variation in processes. This can help enable operational stability by reimagining how productivity is addressed through next-generation technologies. Companies using this method across different industries to plan and manage the execution of their operations have increased operating margins by 2-4 per cent, and reduced variation to plan by 20 per cent or more. One mining company alone has improved mine production output by 44 per cent and doubled mine production.
An additional level of stability is enabled when scheduling can be connected to the MES/MOM to achieve what is known as short interval control. When continuous feedback loops become part of the scheduling process for production, blending, waste, maintenance, and support schedules, adjustments can be rapidly made to keep production on track. With wireless infrastructure, MES/MOM can gather data from any part of the mine, even underground, and dispatch work orders digitally to employees in real-time.
Mining companies can update activities and tasks between scheduling cycles; gain real-time visibility into capacity, availability, and performance; and better manage activities, tasks and/or priorities to account for changes in production and unexpected events. In addition, they can instantly communicate new and updated work orders wherever they are required, provide efficient handover of incomplete activities and tasks between shifts, and obtain assurance that activities and tasks are completed to specification (sequence, time, duration, tons, grade, maintenance, safety, regulatory compliance, etc).
Production scheduling capabilities are also found within Perfect Mine and Plant, and enable mining companies to further boost productivity by using a real-time key performance indicator approach to scheduling. Production scheduling identifies and collects all the tasks necessary to reliably deliver on production forecasts, and integrates and synchronises all of them to enable execution excellence.
Schedulers have a holistic view of all activities of planning from the operation, maintenance, inventory, workforce and transportation. They also benefit from the ability to adapt to real-time feedback from the operations and to reschedule as necessary to stay on plan. With this knowledge, they develop, update and optimise schedules based on the reality of what is happening in the operation.
Simulation is another key technology that has been proven in other industries to add value. For geologists and engineers, especially in companies and operations that have downsized, the pressure to produce optimal plans is greater than ever. This is hard to accomplish, given the limitation of time to run and analyse many more different options.
Perfect Mine and Plant’s operation modeling and simulation component integrates and automates the planning process, allowing for many more options and variables to be accounted for than have been previously possible. Mine planners can pull together vast sources of information into an integrated and optimised mine plan that can then be turned into executable mine schedules.
Operation modeling and simulation can create simulation process flows – consisting of a variety of applications, including commercial software, internally developed programs, and Excel spreadsheets – in order to automate the exploration of planning alternatives and identification of optimal performance parameters. Planners can produce plans to a defined level of confidence using simulation and decision support, understand the driving factors and levers in the mining process, and have confidence in strategic and tactical plans before execution.
Looking at a few examples of the kinds of benefits this technology has delivered across different industries, Baker Hughes reduced design time from 80 weeks to 2 weeks. In another case, a GE90 aircraft engine was made 200 lbs lighter, resulting in estimated total savings of $500M.
Advanced simulation also has a role to play in aiding the mining industry. Sydney-based mining consultancy Coffey has used Dassault Systèmes’ SIMULIA software, widely used in the automotive, oil and gas and other industries, to improve both open pit slope stability for its rock mechanics analysis and underground safety.
Most mine planners know that the plans they produce are often deviated from given that equipment can break down, weather conditions can change, and geology can be different from what was initially predicted. There are a wide variety of factors across the operation that can impact the schedule, and often the planner is not aware of them, especially as things change. Simulation can help identify solutions to problems that may be beyond the active mine plan.
Another aspect of achieving stability is improved collaboration to drive planning. Bombardier, an aerospace company, provides an illustration of how significant improvements can be made to engineering. Dassault Systèmes partnered with Bombardier to develop more innovative aircraft in response to intense competition and changes in the aviation industry. 3D models became the central source of all product information for Bombardier, integrating internal teams and worldwide development partners. Bombardier rolled out a global platform that enabled geographically dispersed teams to collaborate anytime and anywhere, with each contributor able to access up-to-date information in the cloud. The results were a 62 per cent drop in the time taken to develop multiple iterations of existing designs, 95 per cent less time for engineering calculations and 80 per cent less time to locate design information.
There is plenty of opportunity for innovation in the mining industry, and numerous proven technologies used in other industries can be deployed today. The examples presented here are just but a few of what is available.
For more information, visit the Dassault Systèmes website at www.3ds.com/industries/natural-resources.