The mining industry is beginning to open its eyes to the potential of connectivity-based technologies. The Internet of Things (IoT), often defined as the convergence of information and operations technology, has sparked substantial interest, and with just an estimated five percent of mining operations currently making use of IoT, the potential upside is significant.
Applying IoT affects three factors: process optimisation (quality and throughput), maintenance strategies and utility consumption. Understanding the advanced sensing and the data analytics allows plant managers to make good decisions about balancing operations. Equipment may need to be pushed harder in order to meet quotas, but can also be slowed down if necessary.
“If a mine is pushing a lot of product through its equipment, inducing extra wear and potential damage, they could balance the trade-off between increasing revenue through the extra input and the increasing maintenance costs due to wear and tear on the machine,” said Greg Weaver, Global Product Line Director, Digital Solutions for FLSmidth.
In a crusher, for example, sensor data might indicate that the mantle has worn to a certain level. The system could then adjust the opening and operation of the crusher to maintain the desired particle size, even if the machine is somewhat worn.
Improving productivity in South America
As an example of how IoT can work in practice, Greg Weaver tells the story of a copper mine in South America that was experiencing premature wear on its mill liners: “FLSmidth installed an impact meter that measured the acoustics within the mill and then adjusted the speed and several other variables on the mills to optimise performance. Analysing the data provided by IoT, we saw an increase in production by 8.75 percent. The programme also lowered energy consumption by 8.7 percent and the number of critical impacts between the balls and the mill shell was reduced by 46.9 percent.”
All those benefits were accomplished through data analysis: “The process control system factors those parameters into data ecosystems, adjusting speed, feed rates, etc. The mill itself had 25 to 30 parameters that were analysed and adjusted for optimisation. This is far superior to anything that could be done manually.”
What data can do
The ability to manage and interpret data gives added power to process control systems. With access to more data, machine learning and historical information, process control systems are becoming more stable and rugged, but at the same time within reach. “The reason IoT programmes are now really starting to gain momentum is because of the decreasing cost of the sensor packages,” Weaver said. He points out that sensor technology and sensors costs are becoming so inexpensive that engineers can instrument equipment that could not be economically justified in the past.
But to truly benefit from IoT and the data-driven decision making it enables, it requires certain competencies within the organisation. “For an organisation to use and implement IoT, they must have a maintenance organisation able to harvest the benefits from the information provided, one that understands and acts on the information given,” explains Skage Hem, Vice President for Mining R&D, FLSmidth.
FLSmidth develops solutions based on IoT technologies and provides them to mines on a customised basis, looking at specific needs and best way of implementation. Skage Hem explains that FLSmidth’s approach is about improving the performance of individual pieces of equipment, while also optimising the benefits of IoT across the entire plant:
“We can either provide the sensor packages or assist with interpreting key operational data. If a mine does not have access to the operational data, the first step would be to install the technology and then develop maintenance strategies around it and keep it on a practical level. Then we could begin to look at integrating data into process optimisation decisions.”
He emphasises the enormous potential of IoT, which is already being realised in several other industries. “There is a five to 10 percent cost reduction just waiting to happen and these would be big numbers for the mining business. And, the cost to implement is not at all proportional to the savings.”
Skage Hem, Global Vice President for Mining R&D: SRHE@FLSmidth.com
Greg Weaver, Global Product Line Director, Digital Solutions: Greg.Weaver@FLSmidth.com