Digital innovations, providing knowledge about everything from the resource base to real-time performance of equipment, will be the mining industry’s much needed breakthrough in productivity. Taking advantage of digitalization is a leadership decision and a tool to unlock hidden values.
Applying big data is a window of opportunity to optimise productivity of new and existing mines. Optimising productivity in the mining industry is much needed, as we continuously have to dig deeper and in more remote locations to feed the world’s hunger for minerals. Recent McKinsey studies foresee a future where digitalization helps us build a better understanding of the resource base but currently the industry uses less than 1% of all data collected.
However, truly benefiting from digitalization requires direction, action and leadership. Very often, the challenge of implementing digital technologies ends as good intentions or as stand-alone initiatives.
"In the last decade, data analytics has become increasingly important in order to optimise processes. Advances in connectivity, software usability and capacity to store large amounts of data have created a range of potential applications for digitalization, all driving productivity,” says Skage Hem, Vice President of R&D Mining in FLSmidth.
Knowing the direction
One reason why it is hard to convert digital initiatives into actual operation is that the main challenge is often organisational, not technological. The transition is a leadership challenge. Leaders need to set goals and build a digital strategy around these goals to secure cohesion of all digital initiatives.
An operational digital strategy can unlock values hidden in the long and fragmented value chain in mining, further diffused by many different suppliers. Applying digital, they can all work together and allow miners to build stronger partnerships with more vendors while breaking down silos.
Miners can break it down into operative and implementable actions and initiate digital projects and processes to help fulfil their overall goal. For instance, the organisation will know what equipment needs to be equipped with sensors to collect data, which competencies are necessary to analyse data and what to do with the results of the analysis.
Process more with less
A burning platform is the best starting point for change. Depletion of simple mineral deposits creates a profitability and productivity challenge, i.e., how to mine and process more, while decreasing OPEX relatively. This forces industry leaders to be innovative and change the way mines operate. Nonetheless, digitalization itself cannot mine the ores, but digging into data is the opportunity to mine smarter and increase productivity.
Case: Digital maintenance provides peace of mind
Secure, 24/7 remote monitoring, support and online solving of the most urgent problems is one way plant operators around the world are already reaping the benefits of digitalization.
Digital sensors are now standard in most new equipment, allowing for remote monitoring of performance and critical events through a secure web-based service. At more than 180 sites around the world, plant personnel do not have to worry about whether they are missing a software update, anti-virus or needed maintenance on their equipment. It is an area where FLSmidth is already empowering customers.
“The PlantLine™ Service Agreement is a partnership between our customers and FLSmidth. We can proactively optimise plant performance through remote, continuous monitoring and adjustments to various parameters on the equipment. When issues do arise, our ability to respond quickly significantly reduces or even eliminates equipment downtime. PlantLine is much more than a risk mitigator, it is a productivity enhancer,” says Martin Solberg, Senior Vice President at FLSmidth.
"PlantLine is a combination of online support, on site support and training of personnel. Most customers are amazed by how much we can actually handle remotely. Even if the solution requires on site support, we can almost always diagnose the problem online, which means that they don’t wait hours or days for a person to show up without the right equipment to fix the problem,” Solberg concludes.
Collaboration and partnerships can be crucial
The example above shows how partnership and collaboration can open up new avenues where data and digitalization can be applied and - most importantly - can deliver tangible benefit to the bottom line. This partnership method is something that should be actively pursued within the industry.
"We need to actively drive this evolution. We are working hard to lead this innovation at FLSmidth and to seek new ways to enhance productivity through the digitalization of equipment across the flowsheet.," adds Manfred Schaffer, Group Executive Vice President at FLSmidth.
"To get the full benefit we need to connect experts, real-time monitoring and data analytics through online platforms. The outcome will enable us in the industry to improve operational performance, predict maintenance needs, integrate the supply chain and forecast future outcomes. Digitalization and data utilisation must be built on domain expertise and insights which, if not right by your side, can be gained through partnerships. Together, we can create the most possible value from digitalization."