By Adrian Hale, Dassault Systèmes director of natural resources, Asia Pacific South
AS mining company profits continue to be pressured by the uncertainty that remains in the global economy, the industry is on a quest for innovation. 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. The industry can incorporate new applications into existing technology for improved productivity. More 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 productivity and output levels.
To understand where mining can look for innovation, it is useful to examine what has led to successful transformations in other industries. Toyota became the world’s largest and most successful automobile producer by becoming agile – rapidly adjusting itself in light of changing demand and economic conditions. It started at the bottom of its business and established operational stability to gain better control over manufacturing processes.
To become agile and sustainable, mining companies need operational stability – 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 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 and analysable, and made actionable to executives, management and frontline workers. If it is, the path to mining executionexcellence, and eventually business agility, is paved. Enabling technology from other industries is a key requirement to begin the journey.
Establishing operational predictability is the first step towards transforming mining businesses in a meaningful way. Without this control attempts at becoming agile may not deliver the desired value. If mining businesses do not understand how healthy their operating processes are (including 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 mineral assets).
Decades ago, the manufacturing industry established processes and systems to support operational stability, 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 customers. This technology exists today for mining companies, if they choose to embrace it.
A significant challenge 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. Analytics that operational data enables will also drive continuous improvement.
Mining execution management systems (MES) and mining operations management (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.
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 required, provide efficient handover of incomplete activities and tasks between shifts, and obtain assurance that activities and tasks are completed to specification.
When connected to scheduling systems, the benefits of MES/MOM in mining are amplified - linking ensures continuous feedback loops are part of the scheduling process for production, blending, waste, maintenance and support schedules. This allows for adjustments to be made rapidly, which keeps production on track.
While MES/MOM systems are not widely employed in mining, manufacturing and other industries have used them for decades. In these industries MES/MOM has played an enabling role in conformance to plan by reducing variation in processes.
We understand how 3D technology from other industries can be applied to mining and how it can enable operational stability by reimagining how productivity is addressed through next-generation technologies. Results of borrowing technology from other industries include a 2-4% increase in operating margins and reduced variation to plan by 20% or more. One mining company, alone, has improved mine production output by 44%.
Another aspect of achieving stability is improved collaboration to drive planning. Aerospace company Bombardier provides an illustration of how significant improvements can be made to engineering. We partnered with Bombardier to develop more innovative aircraft in response to intense competition and changes in aviation. 3D models became the central source of all product information, 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% drop in time taken to develop multiple iterations of existing designs, 95% less time for engineering calculations and 80% less time to locate design information.
There is plenty of opportunity for innovation in mining and numerous proven technologies used in other industries that can be deployed.
Dassault Systèmes, the 3DEXPERIENCE Company, provides business and people with virtual universes to imagine sustainable innovations. Its solutions transform the way products are designed, produced and supported. For more information, visit www.3ds.com.