Mining IQ and The ASIA Miner last week teamed up to showcase the latest mining technology across the Asia Pacific region during the inaugural AusAsia-Mintech conference at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Perth, Western Australia.

Over two information-packed days conference attendees heard from companies such as Iluka Resources, Rio Tinto, Austmine, Alcoa, One Key Resources, Dassault Systemes, Thiess, Aspire Mining and many more.

On day one Iluka Resources’ operations manager Stuart Forrester gave a presentation on ‘Driving innovation in plant operations through workforce diversity’. Newmont Bodington Gold’s Fleet Management Systems superintendent Jason Nitz gave insights into the very topical subject of the convergence of information technology and operational technology.

At the event, the audience gathered for a breakout interactive session to debate the issue of productivity across three business critical areas: automation, equipment and data analytics.

Mining IQ’s Megan Edward’s provides the following summary titled ‘The Three Pillars of Productivity. Automation, Equipment and Data’:

On site at Mining IQ and The ASIA Miner’s AusAsia-MinTech 2014 conference in Perth, the audience gathered for a breakout interactive session to debate the issue of productivity across three business critical areas: automation, equipment and data analytics.

  • Is big data analytics the latest disruptive technology/trend for mining? To what extent is data analytics being actively embraced by mining to lift productivity rates?

A lot of the systems in the mines are historical, built autonomously and designed to run in a siloed manner. We’re now in the age when ideally we need to bring those different formats of data together and start looking at the analytics around it, look at what’s happening in the business and make important decisions based on these findings.

The biggest challenge with this integration is the very fact that these systems were built to run autonomously. Therefore any communication between those systems requires first the ability or technology to match up the disparate data sets and develop the business case for this overarching system.

Finance and operations teams will have a different approach to how this should be done of course, weighing up short-term cost against long term operational and financial benefits.

Therefore it’s important to decide what your business case is, based on a driver tree and by analysing your business and then developing a strategy based on this. A warning from our attendees though: too much analysis can result in ‘analysis paralysis’!

Culture is the last piece in the puzzle for the growth of big data analytics in this sector. The mining industry is built on intuitive people; just a couple of years ago we were driven by volumes, suddenly we’ve become cost driven and about margins. When this change has occurred in the sector, then inevitably some of the ways the teams have been operating has to change, but this is counter-intuitive to how they’ve been working for years and can be a challenge to implement.

  • How important is automation to mining being able to increase productivity? Is automation alone enough to improve this?

One of the key benefits of automation in mining operations is reduced variability. This is not just the case in fully automated sites (as there are still only a handful of these around the world), but also on sites where automated dispatch has been integrated and production goes up.

Productivity is, of course, not the only benefit of automation; another significant benefit is that of improvements in safety and moving people out from the pit. When focusing on people, it is right to think about hiring the right people, and training is crucial to making sure the systems are fully utilized.

Again, a warning from our attendees: an initial green light for an automation project doesn’t mean it will go ahead!

  • Equipment availability and utilization: what are the best ways of increasing these in order to drive productivity? What are the biggest hindrances?

This group kicked off noting the importance of consideration for both equipment utilization and then productivity – there can be a difference! They considered productivity as the key driver that will make the money, prioritized over utilization.

What is a realistic rate of utilization of equipment? The agreed benchmark was around 80% availability, but then a very good rate of utilization on that 80% availability would be 95%. It is also important of course with major pieces of equipment to consider reliability and availability of all components to work out the overall availability of these pieces.

Using modern technology and GPS based systems can be critical to successful improvement of equipment utilization. When you’re talking about your mobile fleet, what is also an absolute fundamental requirement is a good root cause analysis process to identify problems, prevent reoccurrence and improve the business that way.

Other tips from the group included that one of the most valuable information tools out there is real-time health monitoring (a Rio Tinto press release last October noted they were saving approximately $53,000 per month using this). In terms of best value for money, identifying where bottlenecks are came out top. The consensus was the bottlenecks are quite easy to spot in a refinery, but across an entire mining operation this can be harder. However, it was agreed roughly 70% in a mining operations is loading and hauling, but the first critical point is drilling and blasting. That might only be 30%, but it’s early on in the production timeline, so any delays here have a massive impact overall.

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