Industry Q&A: Innovation through big data and equipment utilization
RungePincockMinarco are a major event partner of Austmine 2015: Transforming Mining. With the overarching theme of the conference being Innovation, it seemed an ideal time to catch up with their CEO, Richard Mathews, about how RPM strives for innovation, plus receive his insights into two of mining companies' greatest focuses right now: big data analytics and optimizing equipment utilization. Richard has more than 20 years' management experience in telecommunications, software and investment, with extensive knowledge of the mining and technology space.
As an Australian METS company, who are recognized in the industry as the world leaders in innovation and technological advancement, how important is it to keep innovating and collaborating within the industry as a whole to ensure its future? How does RPM drive innovation within its own business?
Innovation is the key to success in our industry, we have created some incredible products over the years, but if you rest on your laurels in the technology world you will die a quick death. The technology sector moves at such a pace, that without continual innovation your competitors move past you and your customers move away for you. In the mining industry, the fluctuation in commodity prices and the challenges that brings means there is a constant need to work smarter, increase efficiency and have better control over your operations. RPM have always taken the approach of working closely with its clients to ensure that our software is delivering exactly what the industry needs. Collaboration with miners is vital for delivering products that solve real world problems. Collaborating with industry partners is also important, in recent years RPM has been working closely with our partner SAP to the point where RPM’s enterprise connectors that integrate with SAP have been certified by SAP. Seamlessly connecting technical mine applications with corporate ERP systems is a step change for the industry.
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At RPM we have an expanding team of talented software developers, we have a collaborative approach to problem solving and everyone is encouraged to share ideas and test theories. We mix that development skill with in-depth knowledge of mining practices from our advisory division. We have some incredibly experienced and knowledgeable people that work closely with our customers to drive the functionality of our products. We have created an environment where people come up with ground breaking ideas and we invest in those ideas for the benefit of our customers.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities for the mining industry in Australia in 2015 to improve productivity?
We believe that the best way to drive down the cost of mining is through the introduction of technology solutions that optimise the mining supply chain from the mine plan all the way through to delivery of the customer product. Sharing information between interested parties visually means everyone is on the same page. Clear communication removes the natural conflicts of interest and silos between departments and ensures that previously wasted time and effort, repetition of work and errors are removed for the operations of the business. The ability to optimise, simulate and cost out mining plans before they are put into action inherently drives down the cost of mining.
There’s a lot of talk around big data in the mining industry currently, and a big part of this is of course down to system selection and integration and the ability for systems to communicate. What are the biggest pitfalls you see mining companies falling into when upgrading systems, or looking to get the most out of their platforms?
Integration is a must, but mining companies haven’t always had a choice, historically they have had to use a range of disparate systems spanning a variety of departments to do their planning. Moving forward, having applications that talk to each other and are seamlessly integrated is going to be essential for success. Miners need systems in place that eliminate manual manipulation of data, remove data file transfers and anything that creates a risk of errors occurring. Having a fully integrated enterprise suite of planning products that are connected to the corporate ERP is the way of the future. It breaks down silos, encourages collaboration and provides the opportunity for users to spend more time analyzing data rather than creating it and shuffling it around between different systems.
Another focus area for many miners right now (e.g. Centennial Coal) is on really optimizing equipment utilization. Do you have any tips for miners looking to improve this on their sites?
Equipment, both the capital expenditure and the operating cost is the biggest expense for any mining operation, so optimizing a fleet is crucial for getting the most value from that investment. RPM believes that enabling clear visibility of the real operational requirements for equipment is essential. Visibility then enables informed decisions to be made about how a fleet could and should be used. This can be done through simulation and scenario analysis.
Product simulation software using TALPAC has been part of the RPM DNA for over 30 years, but the last 18 months has seen some incredible advancement in this area.
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Discrete event simulation is a big focus for RPM right now. Delivering a platform in which miners can map their entire haulage and loading systems means that theories can be tested and a variety of options can be explored before any spend is committed. RPM has developed HAULSIM to provide that solution for RPM clients. We have had a fantastic response to HAULSIM since its launch, as the value it provides a mining operation is obvious almost immediately. Being able to realistically simulate mining operations before you actually start means you can identify any bottleneck before they start costing you money. Building an optimized equipment fleet through the use of scenario simulations again drives down the cost of mining - often for a very low investment cost.
My tip would be to look at ways to explore all of your equipment decisions and haulage options before you make them, test your theories and be certain that you are making the best decision before you move a single truck!
Rio Tinto and Alcoa begin construction with ELYSIS tech
Eliminating all direct greenhouse gases from aluminium smelting has taken a major step forward with the start of construction on the first commercial-scale prototype cells of ELYSIS’ inert anode technology, at Rio Tinto’s Alma smelter in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec.
ELYSIS has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of aluminium production
ELYSIS is a joint venture company led by Rio Tinto and Alcoa that is developing a new breakthrough technology, known as inert anode, that eliminates all direct greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the traditional smelting process and instead produces oxygen.
The technology has the potential to transform the aluminium industry, with a significant reduction in its carbon footprint.
The inert anode prototype cells will operate on a commercial scale typical for large modern aluminium smelters, using an electrical current of 450 kiloamperes (kA).
The Honourable Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry joined representatives from ELYSIS, Rio Tinto and Alcoa to mark the start of construction and announce a further CAD $20mn financial contribution from the Government of Canada to support the project.
The federal government's financial support will enable the creation of a unique commercial size inert anode technology showroom for future customers and will help develop the supply chain by involving local and regional equipment manufacturers and suppliers in the project.
ELYSIS is working to complete the technology demonstration by 2024 followed by the commercialization activities.
ELYSIS technology at a glance:
- The ELYSIS technology addresses the global trend towards producing low carbon footprint products, from mobile phones to cars, planes and building materials.
- The new process will reduce operating costs ofaluminiumsmelters while increasing production capacity. It could be used in both new and existing aluminium smelters.
- In Canada alone, the ELYSIS technology has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by 7 million tons, the equivalent of removing 1.8 million cars from the roads.
- ELYSIS will also sell next-generation anode and cathode materials, which will last more than 30 times longer than traditional components.
Alcoa and Rio Tinto will continue to support the ELYSIS development program alongside the Governments of Canada and Quebec.
ELYSIS is working closely with Alcoa's Technical Center, where the zero-carbon smelting technology was invented, and the Rio Tinto technology design team in France.
Alcoa's Technical Center supports ELYSIS in the manufacture of proprietary materials for the new anodes and cathodes that are essential to the ELYSIS process. The Rio Tinto technology team in France is creating commercial scale designs for the ELYSIS technology.
Vincent Christ, CEO, ELYSIS commented: “This is a great day for ELYSIS. It means that we are becoming the first technology company in the world to build commercial-size inert anode cells. While we refine the technology in our R&D Centre, we start the construction of our prototype cells. This shows our confidence in our process and in the know-how of our team. The combination of ELYSIS' zero CO2 technology and Quebec's renewable energy will be great competitive advantage for the future. I would like to thank the government for its support and all the partners for their commitment.”
Samir Cairae, Rio Tinto Aluminium managing director Atlantic Operations and ELYSIS board member added: “Today marks a real step towards the future of the aluminium industry, by progressing this breakthrough technology to cut carbon emissions. Rio Tinto is committed to supporting its ongoing development here in Quebec where we already use clean hydropower to deliver some of the world’s lowest carbon aluminium. Combining this technology with renewable hydropower holds the promise of zero carbon aluminium smelting.”