Industry 4.0 and mining: keeping technology at the heart of the matter
Telstra Telecom is investing in machine to machine connectivity in order to improve technical input. This investment is just one example of how innovative, forward thinking technologies introduced by companies that are not usually associated with the mining sector are continuing to generate larger interest.
This type of cross-sector investment from within the technology and telecommunications sectors is the result of what can be considered a concerted focus on developing technology to improve output levels, and the increasing level of automation across the industry.
The mining industry is one that relies on a core premise to developing technology: that this should be done in direct line with a specific set of needs and circumstances. This is highly appropriate, according to John Warwick of Phoenix Mining Consultants, given the different minerals, geology and global locations involved. A customised approach supports the principal need for technological solutions to increase the level of automation throughout the entire mining industry, increasing accuracy and reducing human input in the process.
Technological advances can now provide an automated and better standardised process that achieves consistent production levels from previously laborious processes. The production of low –margin bulk minerals has been developed with more advanced equipment that is not only remote-controlled but incorporates the ability for output levels to be far less variable.
The concept of remote controlled [of] mining, introduced thirty years ago, demonstrates how forward thinking the industry is in terms of reducing the human element involved. It also highlights the level of sophistication this has now reached, with advanced capabilities now constantly feeding into its evolution.
In the mining sector, technology is not restricted to automation. For example, there is the use of hi-speed resin bonding customised roof bolts in the Australian coal mining industry and sensor based technology that reduces the need for human input - for example, sorting machinery uses this tool to separate valuable mineral ores from waste rock, significantly reducing the time taken to do this manually. Incorporating individual solutions like this is now commonplace, but the mining sector's leading players have the internal capacity, funding and resources required to develop their own technology, helping to push the innovation boundaries further.
There is also the use of driverless, remote-controlled mining which has been used in the industry for a number of years. With this significant cross-sector push to further develop and verify driverless technology, mining firms need to stay at the forefront of this through alliances with the pure technology and automotive sectors or, quite simply developing and implementing it themselves. A high proportion of mining costs are labour related and the savings generated through using driverless vehicles are substantial. These savings are also recognised as a key component of maintaining high standards of safety.
The standardisation of safety and output levels in this way is another advantage of using continuous or mechanised mining technology to physically excavate.
Although it has been in place throughout key territories for a number of years, some countries have only recently adopted various aspects of it to suit their specific needs. One coal mining company in Russia has introduced the first continuous miner (an automated piece of mining equipment) after extensively renewing the standard practices used around the world. John Warwick was able to assist in a feasibility study that led to this milestone.
The so-called fourth industrial revolution, or “Industry 4.0” is now upon us with big data, M2M connectivity and automation. The current level of innovation and strategic partnerships within the mining technology space demonstrates the agility of businesses and bodes well for the future of the industry. The continuing surge in the development and application of technologies in the mining sector will no doubt influence how the industry will look in the medium to long-term, which is therefore a credit to foresight and lateral thinking, whether this results from cross-sector alliances or/ and responding directly to practical needs.
David Brennan and Charles Bond are partners at Gowling WLG
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5 Mins With... Arun Narayanan, CDO, Anglo American
Arun Narayanan, Group Chief Data Officer, Anglo American, introduces VOXEL, the mining industry's first digital transformation platform for data-driven decisions...
What is VOXEL?
"VOXEL is the mining industry’s first digital transformation platform for data-driven decisions. It is the implementation of the Operating Model with machine learning and artificial intelligence. It encompasses the entire value chain for Anglo American and it helps us really move forward into the future. A platform built in the cloud... It is a very modern platform looking at all of the data that exists in our operations and trying to bring that all together is the first step."
How does VOXEL work?
"The data from digital twins, plus data coming in from our historians as well as geoscience data as well as external data is all pulled in into a modern, scalable infrastructure that we call the data lake. This data lake contains the data of our operations and presents the first opportunity for us to start to integrate things. As we begin to build these integrated models we are cleaning up the data. We are performing data management tasks at the lowest levels from data quality to the highest levels like data management. This cleaned-up information allows us to create data-rich applications... It gives us a great opportunity to leverage the advancements happening in the computer science industry to bring machine learning, artificial intelligence, burst capacity for our applications through cloud computing and much, much more."
What makes VOXEL different?
"The entire system, the entire value chain modelling, has been built specifically by us for mining as opposed to looking at other alternatives which are specifically targeted just to equipment or to other solutions. It looks at the full value chain, it takes in the deep expertise that sits in the T&S (Technical & Sustainability) organisation and the business units and it encapsulates that knowledge in the way these applications and these solutions are designed. It takes all of the digital twins that were built at individual steps of the value chain and pulls together almost a systematic digital twin of the full value chain - and that is really what sits at the heart of VOXEL."
How does VOXEL drive intellectual property and data ownership?
"We are taking a stand on data ownership. The data that we generate as part of our operations is an asset. It is our asset and we have to treat it as you would treat any other asset. We need to protect it, we need to make sure we are using it where it needs to be used and we need to make sure that we are getting the best return that we can get from that asset. And that is what the VOXELTM data programme sets out to do. It gives us a pathway to begin to claim ownership of that data and begin to use that data to drive the best decisions that we can – that we can get.
"The other aspect of this is intellectual property. Intellectual property in this system is owned almost entirely by Anglo American. We do work with industry-leading partners like Microsoft for the cloud solution and we buy other components where they are necessary but they are encapsulated away and the intelligence in the system is owned entirely by us. What that means for us from the scalability standpoint is that we can productise these solutions and deploy them at pace without incurring additional costs to all of our operations."
Arun Narayanan, Group Chief Data Officer, Anglo American