“How do we drive efficiency to support future growth across our operations?” asks Barun Gorain, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer at Hindustan Zinc, Vedanta Resources. “The whole point of our digital transformation is to build a foundation to prepare ourselves for the next phase of growth to support key outcomes of enhanced safety, improved productivity and reduced costs with true technology innovation.”
Gorain points out that few mining companies work in this way: “We take a very holistic view of this digital innovation with a portfolio focused on three areas to build that foundation. Critically, the first step is to integrate all of our operating data into one platform so it can enable the digital enterprise with all of the financial, commercial and HR systems.
“Secondly, with all the data on a single platform, we have begun a deeper analytics drive where we're looking not just at predictive and prescriptive controls, but also at developing business operation models for each and every part of a unit operation so that we can go beyond data analysis with a system based approach and official automation.
“This leads us into the third area. Digital alone is not going to help us so we must support our subject matter expertise. Many companies across the globe go digital but without strengthening their core know-how, which for us is mining, milling and smelting. The idea is to leverage digital, which is just the enabler to help us in optimising all of our individual operations. Now this approach is actually quite deep, compared to most companies, and this is where we see the benefits.”
To change the game, Vedanta has recently inaugurated their Hindustan Zinc Collaboration Centre based at the company’s head office in partnership with OSIsoft and ABB to improve efficiency, safety and sustainability while enhancing value across Hindustan Zinc’s operations. “The unique thing here is that we're connecting all our operating people with OEMs, subject matter expertise and our data scientists,” explains Gorain. “OSIsoft and ABB are helping us to connect our operating data across all of our mines, mills, smelters and power plants. It’s a crucial initiative because, along with insights, we’ll be able to predict things in real-time and collaborate in a way that allows us to maximise the benefit that digital solutions from SMEs can have in helping us to optimise our operations. ABB, as one of the world's top experts in control innovation, is supporting us on this quest.”
Looking long-term, the company vision is moving towards converting all of its underground mining operations from batch to continuous with the support of next generation technologies, including underground hydraulic ored pumping solutions to enable mining with minimal or no tailings or waste. “From an extraction or recovery point of view, we’re looking at completely digitised equipment to aid the recovery of minor, major and precious metals,” adds Gorain. “In parallel, greater efficiency will come from fine tuning via digital means.”
Gorain’s team is targeting benefits on the mining side to improve efficiency by 15% which translates to 74,000 tons of extra metal, by 2021 - a huge gain. “Meanwhile, on the milling side we're looking at recovery improvement from 81% up to 92%,” he adds. “Silver recovery is forecasted to rise from 57% to 70% leading to an additional 70,000 tons of lead-zinc metals.” Gorain stresses that enhancing safety is a key aspect and one of the major reasons why SK mine is considered one of the most digitally advanced mines in the world. “With safety as a top priority, continuous mining, automation, digitisation, less man-machine interaction, remote monitoring and real-time visualisation of people will be a tremendous leap forward which will also lower the cost of production.”