Technology has progressed significantly over the past few years, to the point that Big Data is no longer a buzzword; Virtual Reality (VR) has moved on from gaming, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer in the realms of science fiction. The world's largest industries, especially mining, are not taking full advantage of these technologies yet - they are implementing them in order to survive the fourth and fifth industrial revolutions.
When evaluating where your current situation, the following 10 indicators should be assessed to determine where your organisation stands, and how you can catch up:
1 - Your Equipment Manufacturers and vendor partners are not willing to work with other suppliers and technology companies to integrate your existing software
When selecting technology, it is important to choose the right tool for the job. If you happen to fall prey to marketing and become locked into one vendor, then you can become dependent on that vendor to implement features you need (sometimes at inflated prices, due to being locked in), or you will need to explore other costly options. Ideally, your technology strategy should follow a component approach, where each piece of your technology solution is independent of each other and can be swapped out if needed, with minimal interruption (and integration) on other components.
Over-dependence is common with new technology and can extend to providers such as equipment manufacturers. Always get a second and third opinion, and consider that there are other suppliers that may have superior insight into the area you are addressing. This can provide a valuable perspective from the broader view that can be taken by an OEM, which may not completely fit with your business goals. Ultimately it becomes a balance between ‘out of the box’ general assistance, and custom and tailored solutions that are required to address your challenges.
2 - You’re ordering parts from your equipment manufacturers and suppliers at the last minute
When you are unsure of the state of your assets, until they are serviced or breakdown, you are at risk of impacting production severely due to the lead times on parts and installation (this can impact significantly on profitability). Once you start collecting data from your assets, you can start benefiting by utilising the data to optimise your maintenance schedules and part ordering, and increasing profitability and the life of your assets. AI can be used to predict when and how an asset may fail before the failure happens, assisting you to make sure that you always have the parts in stock when required, and as a result you can optimise the asset availability.
To stay ahead of part demand, your system needs to be integrated with inventory management, ordering and maintenance systems, so that you get access to the part availability and lead time data required to make timely decisions. If you are able to utilise current usage data, and wear and tear to simulate and predict failures, then you can automate your ordering process to have the required parts available when required. This can be critical, especially when the lead time for a part is significant and will have a major impact on the operations of the company, for example, a girth gear on a grinding mill could have a lead time of up to 24 months.
3 - Your executives and managers do not see the value in data
If the push for technological advancement is not coming from the top down, then there will be no impetus or incentive for the rest of the business to embrace technology. People within the business will struggle to attain the funding required to implement the change, which can cost you time (possible first mover advantage) and lost opportunity (one look at the rate of growth associated with technology makes it clear that timing is critical).
Research shows that to incite and facilitate effective change within an organisation you should have a strategy with an accompanying project portfolio. This allows top-down leadership on projects that will incite and facilitate the required changes. From there, development and implementation of those projects that will make the change happen can be completed from the bottom-up. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228597753_Bottom-Up_or_Top-Down_Evolutionary_Change_Management_in_NPD_Processes).
4 - Your company does not have a centralised data repository or a cloud strategy in place
The majority of mining equipment, especially large trucks, loaders, and drills, have the ability to transmit data to a repository, either ‘out of the box’ or with minor modifications. Without a safe centralised location to store all your data you will not be able to access the data or restore it to a known point in the event of data loss. There are both on-premise and cloud options for the storage of data (such as Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS)). Not only can data be used to monitor and log parameters associated with an asset, it can also be used for predicting failures, building knowledge on your mines production output, simulating the effect of changes to the mines production output (‘what-if’s), and improving general situational awareness. Benefits like this can only be leveraged if the data is accessible to data scientists and developers, to interpret and make recommendations.
5 - Your mines are printing out charts and status reports to hand out and pin up in break rooms and meeting places
There is nothing more counter-productive than looking at information that is out of date as soon as it is printed, and does not provide a true representation of the current status. This extends to all types of information and data, including training materials, Activity Sheets (Plods), Pre-Starts, and 24-hour performance data. If you change your procedures or methods for working with equipment, but your staff are holding onto printed copies of out-dated information, then you will unnecessarily waste time and resources creating new hard-copies and distributing them every time there is an update.
There are countless solutions for centralising information so that it’s accessible by people no matter where they are, providing online documentation, forms, and dashboarding. Chances are that the systems you use already such as Office 365, Google Drive, and perhaps even PowerBI and Tableau are already able to provide up to date information to people via displays and web portals - access to real time data is proven to save costs.
6 - Your Frontline Supervisors are far too mobile while trying to learn as much as they can to keep things running smoothly
There should not be a mismatch between the frontline supervisors and the current situation underground. It is critical that the Frontline Supervisor is the person who is up to date with the progress of a shift. The decisions that the Frontline Supervisor makes can drastically affect mine production, and as a result they need to have real-time data available so that they can be proactive based on this data to optimise production. It does not make sense for Frontline Supervisor to have to be mobile, with the associated efficiencies, to optimise operations. We have seen cases where Frontline Supervisors are writing information in their windshields as they frantically move around the mine collecting information and altering the shift plan.
This under-utilises the skill-set of the skilled resources available on-site, who when provided up to date information are able to direct operations in an optimal way without having to travel around the site. At the end of a shift, for example, you should know where every asset is in the mine, and you should be confident that the status of work is properly up to date.
If your mine lacks an integrated system that allows the Frontline Supervisor to see what is happening and communicate with others, they could be forced into driving around looking for info. This is compounded when the main medium for information gathering is pen and paper. Gathering paper-based information, acting on it, and reporting on it is near impossible and will cost the business disproportionate amounts after the fact.
7 - People are travelling to site to help others solve problems
Imagine sending someone underground to check if a geotechnical sensor, such as a triaxial vibration sensor, has recently detected seismic activity. Or imagine taking a vehicle out of use, while you wait for a technician to drive 3 hours to a mine site, because the people on the ground need an expert to assist them with diagnosing an issue. These scenarios are avoidable and can be easily and cheaply solved with modern networking solutions and technologies, such as head mounted communications devices and support systems allowing experts to assist by remotely accessing Camera and Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) technology.
8 - You have limited internet connectivity on site
In the age of WiFi mesh, where every fixed and mobile asset can extend your WiFi network range to other assets, there is almost no reason to lose connectivity underground. Fibre is now widely available to bring fast internet to sites, and soon technologies like Starlink will enable remote sites to connect to high-speed internet. At the very least, your technology solutions could be running independently from the internet on your mines local network, periodically updating the data captured to the cloud whenever your asset is in proximity of a network point or the site gets internet connection, keeping your data safe and enabling faster disaster recovery.
It’s important to adopt technologies like Fibre and Starlink at the earliest opportunity so that your uptake of other new technologies is not stifled by bandwidth issues that are common with traditional data transport methods. The better the connectivity your mine site has, the more data that can be provided to optimise the operations at the site, which subsequently will flow through to the profitability of the mine.
9 - You Get Frustrated By The Length of Time it Takes to Gather The Data You Need to Make Decisions
If you don’t have data available to you immediately, it will seriously impact your planning and decision making, and can cause lost opportunities. With your existing data collection process, there may be a reliance on paper, spreadsheets with cumbersome macros that can sometimes be locked by others, data silos, data access issues, multiple non-correlating or contradicting data sources or even information located in someones in-tray or inbox. This is a symptom of not having the appropriate systems in place to collect and collate data seamlessly to make it easily accessible centrally. Technologies such as integrated systems, Robotic Process Automation, digital Forms, and PowerBI assist with the collection and display of data efficiently in a form that benefits planning and decision making providing the opportunity to proactively adapt real-time to the live data. Some financial packages can even allow you to set permissions allowing others to act in someone else's role, preventing data blockages from delays in approvals when people are away or unwell.
Other symptoms of this problem is that people take laptops home to work as they run out of time during normal work hours, or that their data is in a silo unconnected to other datasets, systems, and networks in the business. As the Covid virus spread, countries began to shut down, exposing the vulnerability that many industries have regarding working from the office. If a digital strategy was in place and your documentation, communications, and activities are available online then you would have been able to continue working remotely, leaving only staff required to perform physical activities attending site. To facilitate full continuity of operations a business should ensure that working from home policies have been addressed and the supporting infrastructure is in place (even at a time when government legislation and HR laws need to catch up).
Technologies such as Virtual and Augmented Reality can now allow people to interact in a way that closely resembles real life. If configured correctly, technology such as Microsoft Teams can assist people to seamlessly access information and applications like Discord provide drop-in voice chat rooms which encourage a collaborative environment for dispersed teams. All of these technologies can remove data and information roadblocks for local and remote offices, easing the pain of absentee and remote work.
10 - Data Scientists cannot access your data, do not know what to do with your data, you do not have Data Scientists in the first place, or you do not collect data at all
Working from the top down, we have seen cases where all the data exists and is readily available for the business to benefit from it, but Data Scientists and Developers are unable to access it, are stonewalled by other teams, poor or convoluted data access policies are in place, and there is insufficient equipment and funding in place. These issues prevent data teams from doing their jobs. Teams also need the vision, persistence, and agility to actually work with the data, to do this they need a degree of creative freedom.
If you do not have Data Scientists that know how to perform data analysis, machine learning, and deep learning techniques on data, then you need to ask the question why - the only logical, but unacceptable answer may be that there is no collected data for them to analyse (or many of the previous points in this article were hitting close to home). If this is the case, then it’s important to start to consider the changing technology landscape for mining. Your business may not appreciate the value of data and it could be time to start analysing your business and conducting R&D to demonstrate the value.
Catch the Train, the Time to Act is Now
If you recognise some of these symptoms within your company, then act now so that you aren't left with horses and carriages when everyone else is driving trucks. Insig Technologies can assist you to unlock the dormant value readily available to your business providing significant safety and profitability benefits. We can assist with automation, data and software integration, analytics, and AI solutions - Insig understands mining intimately and can work with you to optimise and propose improvements to your technology environment, so that you can focus on mining efficiently and experience the significant benefits available from changing the way you operate.