Industry Q&A: Mining Data Management, Analysis and Integrity
Data management and analysis is a huge part of mining operations around the globe today and its potential to improve productivity and drive down cost is significant.
In 2014, companies such as Rio Tinto, FMGL and BHP Billiton all came out saying they'd saved hundreds of millions of dollars through smart data usage. Austmine caught up with David Stephen, Managing Director of acQuire Technology Solutions to get his insights into why more companies aren't seeing these kinds of results, and his strategies for using mining operations data to drive better results.
What are the biggest challenges for mining companies nowadays with data management and analysis?
The challenges with data management and analysis are the same challenges faced in other areas of the industry – transient workforce, shortage of professional skilled workers, risk management, governance, and scale. How they manifest themselves from an information management standpoint isn’t always clearly understood, though.
From a geoscience perspective - geologists are really good at collecting data. That data is vital to decision-making at the business level, not just at the drill hole. But geologists don’t always have the right tools to manage the data. Often there will be multiple copies of the same data, different departments will be updating data in silos, or data gets corrupted and it’s hard to know why or where. Geoscientific data is expensive to collect and it’s hard to manage. The biggest challenge is there’s often no central repository - no single source of truth - when it comes to geoscientific data, but that’s exactly what a business needs for effective reporting and decision-making.
How important is it for mining companies to be able to cross reference data from different departments within the operation? What tangible benefits does this allow to the business?
It’s becoming more important than ever. From an operations perspective, you have minimized disruptions, increased efficiencies and better use of resources.
As I mentioned before, once an organization can rely on a single source of truth for their data, reporting becomes more effective. It’s much easier to see the total cost of an operation, even down to the drill hole. Forecasting improves and the people running the business operate with a greater degree of confidence. Managers have an increased knowledge and understanding of exposure to risk. And it’s not just the mine managers and superintendents benefitting. People on the board and at the executive level are more effective in their strategic planning activities.
From a bigger picture vantage point, shareholder value is enhanced because you can minimise losses and maximize opportunities based on credible, durable data assets.
Where are the biggest risks to data integrity in a mining operation? Is it possible for miners to minimize, or even completely eradicate, any of these?
There are two things we work to minimize: storing bad data and corrupting data that’s already been stored. Some of it can be attributed to human error. Different systems or software at different locations can make it difficult to share data or understand workflows. Teams distributed across different mine sites can find it hard to share data. And, what seemed correct in the field doesn’t always hold up once you’re in the office and vice versa. How data is collected, stored, and reported may be subtly different from site to site, and that’s enough to create big headaches at the corporate level.
When your data is unreliable, you’re also exposed to increased risk, especially from outside review. Data integrity provides a stronger culture around risk management and contributes to quality-focused organizational goals.
It’s easy to consider the present or the next financial year, but when you’re a miner in the nuclear industry or working with environmental pressures, data integrity is essential for years into the future - decades or even centuries from now.
2015 looks to be another year where the big focus is on improving productivity levels. How can a better data management system help drive productivity in mining operations?
Everyone we talk to is tightening belts and trying to accomplish more with fewer resources. It’s a fact of life in the natural resources industry when commodity prices are on the downturn. But to a certain extent, geoscientific information management (GIM) is always addressing productivity challenges.
If you think about it, being in control of the quality and integrity of your data is one of the most important productivity measures you can take. If you can rely on your internal systems and processes and not specific personalities to manage your geoscientific information, your organization is in better shape from a productivity standpoint but also in relation to governance.
Specifically, a good data management system allows your geoscientific data to become a long-lasting asset to your business. Regardless of staffing issues, budgeting or government regulation, once you have credible data stored in a central place that everyone in your organization can view; you’re already winning the productivity game. You have a better understanding of how to control costs. Geologists can get back to geology and quit having to fiddle with data. I’ve yet to meet one of those guys who are happy after a day trying to make spreadsheets talk to each other or figure out how their sample data got corrupted. And once a team can understand workflows and what comes next, it really improves.
So, yes, 2015 is going to be another year with a productivity focus but that’s pretty much the space acQuire operates in regardless.
Why is it crucial for mining companies to have an overall strategy to manage their geoscientific data?
I alluded to this earlier, but data is vital to decision support and strategic decision-making within an organization. The more reliable your data, the more nimble your decision-making becomes. Without a strategic view of how that data is going to be managed across an organization, competitive advantage is diluted.
High-quality geoscientific data is where the long-term value is in a mining operation. What amazes me is how often geoscientific information management is done on an ad-hoc basis or develops in an organic way over a period of time. As someone coming from a financial background, it would be unthinkable to address your bookkeeping and accounting in that way but, unfortunately, it’s not uncommon with data.
What other parts of the business benefit from a strategic view of data management and analysis?
One of the things I love about speaking to our customers is we always find new ways people are using our products. For example, Anglo American realized the application was far bigger than with the geology team. Several different areas appreciate having data assets they can rely on, including engineering and marketing. They capture all sorts of peripheral data using the GIM Solution including all exploration costs, so they have extremely accurate figures of the total cost of a borehole. They also have a much better sense of how long it takes to process approvals and are using it to effectively track and allocate time against projects.
Once you have a strategic view of your data management, you can use it to assist with corporate performance and risk management. The risks and outcomes associated with GIM may warrant its inclusion in the Corporate Risk Management framework, and a clear corporate policy will help position GIM as appropriate in terms of both organizational and operational priority.
In other words, effective data management supports an organization’s objective to maintain a complete record of quality, error-free geoscientific data in a single, secure, safe and managed location. It also shows your information is managed to your data security policy. Importantly, a GIM strategy ensures contractors and consultants have access to the data they require as outlined by your data management policies and procedures. That’s really hard to do with a spreadsheet.
Article was previously posted on Austmine.com.au
Axora: driving safety, sustainability and efficiency
“Axora was conceived to bring collaboration and industrial digital innovation to the next level,” pledges CEO Ritz Steytler. “We spoke with the heads of innovation and the operations leaders of oil & gas and metals & mining organisations. We understand the intense pressure they face to modernise their operations. We’re focused on offering solutions to support mining companies with the three biggest challenges they face: safety, sustainability and efficiency."
Safety, Sustainability & Efficiency
"We can help with everything from discovering the right solutions to solve specific problems, to evaluating physical innovation and then supporting the end to end process for actually getting that technology to deliver business value," continues Steytler. That’s realised through our support of the procurement cycle and helping companies with the deployment and maintenance of their chosen solutions to ensure they continue to deliver value where it’s needed most.”
Axora hosts over 150 innovative solutions from sector leaders to start-ups, universities, and consultancies. Examples include machine vision technology that identifies mineral ore contaminants three times faster than the human eye, and predictive modelling for oil rigs which uses built-in sensors and AI to maximise production. Axora's proven digital solutions help to reduce wasted investment, avoid duplication and accelerate business growth.
The World Economic Forum estimates digitalisation can create value to the tune of $400bn across the coming decade. However, the emergence of ‘digital mines’ isn’t just about the numbers. Digitalisation can transform mining into a far more sustainable enterprise by mitigating some of the big risks the industry faces. A digital mine can optimise operations, unleashing the power of data to understand and implement changes in the business.
With the right solutions it’s possible to effect radical changes in a process that is understood better. Solutions that have been road-tested across the oil and gas industry can deliver real benefits for mining companies, including early adopters like Glencore, explains Axora’s Mining Innovation Director Joe Carr: “Opex Group are using Machine Learning with an AI algorithm to pull in all the available sensor data to monitor a processing plant. Its solutions analyse output and look across all the pumps and motors to offer exact data on where to tweak them down. It’s cloud-based and can monitor, reduce and control operational emissions, optimise energy use and minimise environmental impact. It’s currently being used in the oil and gas industry and it's been shown to save up to 10% of power, but the driver of it was actually Co2.
“If you're running an oil platform, your power is essentially free because you're pumping it out of the ground. But in a mine the biggest power user, outside of the trucks and shovels, is the process plant. It uses around 21 kilowatt hours per tonne of processing power to run, right? Obviously, that's dependent on the plant, but it's a power-hungry situation. Diesel is not cheap, especially in remote locations. Being able to save five to 10% of your power usage for no issue in terms of production could be a big win for mining.”
Carr highlights there is also the real opportunity to significantly reduce Scope 1, Scope 2 and even into Scope 3 emissions where Opex Group’s solutions could be used in a smelter to go for the “low hanging fruit” and cut Co2 emissions. “It's a win-win all around, and yet it's a technology which the mining industry doesn't use today, but it exists in a parallel industry.”
To further reduce emissions, Axora is offering solutions which are involved in the scheduling and optimisation of haul truck fleets. “If your fleet is idling for even 10 minutes a cycle, that is wasted fuel,” notes Carr. “It just goes into the atmosphere. And very rarely do the drivers turn the trucks off because they don't want to be stopping and starting those big engines. The mine may be in an extreme climate so even something as basic as saving idling can contribute towards a company’s net zero targets.” The Axora platform also features a system to manage shipping and logistics. “Are you moving your material in the most effective way in terms of routing for fuel usage and speed?” asks Carr.
“Being able to program those variables in terms of Co2 tonnage produced offers new capabilities. We’re able to help our customers understand what they want to achieve. Scope 1 emissions might be the easiest to impact with the haul fleet. Scope 2 focuses on the processing plant and the downstream movement. Understanding what a mining company’s customers are using its materials for makes Scope 3 more difficult to impact – for iron ore it would be a steel melt…”
To that end, Axora offers a predictive maintenance system for aluminum smelting which Carr notes can reduce downtime by up to 20%. “Aluminum smelting tends to come from hydro which can be very clean – it’s energy intensive,” he explains. “But the same system could easily be applied to steel or copper processes where you don't want to be turning them on and off. You don't want to be running your autoclave in a gold mine with a varying sulfide input because the heat goes up and down and it messes with your recovery and you're using a lot more power to heat and cool your autoclave.”
The Axora Platform
“Challenge us and we will find it for you,” asserts Steytler when explaining how he envisages the Axora platform developing. “We aim to match a technology provider to a particular business buyer, somebody that has a real problem that needs to get solved. They can then collaborate to deploy that technology successfully.” Steytler is positioning Axora beyond the sales and procurement process. “There’s no such thing as on time and on budget with a digital transformation effort, right? It’s a difficult thing to achieve, we’re not talking about shrink-wrapped software. That’s why partnerships are extremely important and we can help facilitate those to deliver the value required.”
Reacting to Trends
Against the backdrop of record years for many mining companies – with copper and gold production and prices on the rise – what trends are the team at Axora seeing across the industry that will necessitate a response from its multi-solution platform? “Despite the uncertainties of the global pandemic, mining companies have taken a practical approach,” notes Carr. “What we’ve seen during the pandemic is that miners have realised they need to embrace the digitisation journey. The past year has proved to be a gateway with younger guys coming through the system ready for change.”
Carr highlights that with Covid, engineers couldn’t simply fly to West Africa or Chile so the door to digitsation opened. Where has he seen the biggest push? “How do we get the data we want and then what do we do with it?” he counters. “Miners have so much data that it's in Excel sheets, and it's got macros, and it's historically stored on a server somewhere that nobody's looked at for five years since it was sent out. Our clients' demands today are more around how do we do something with that data? Because we know the benefits are there. The sensor data around predictive maintenance and all these things exist, but they're having such a struggle to deal with it and deliver meaningful insights.”
However, Carr concedes it's a cyclical business. “If it comes down to buying another truck or buying a data server, what's going to get more tonnes out of the ground? But with the right data we can see what will actually benefit operations in the long term… That push towards digital has seen what we thought would take the next five years actually happen in one year because remote capabilities and enhancement to operations centres have advanced to meet demand. At Axora, we’re seeing mining companies assess solutions to improve health and safety on their sites by reducing members of the workforce exposed to risk and in harm’s way and keen to discover how they can drive efficiencies to make more tonnes for less. Ultimately, it’s part of our job to make it simple in terms of a value calculation.”
“Axora is here to accelerate digital transformation in the mining industry,” asserts Steytler. “We can simplify that process. And with investment in that transformation expected to reach $6.8trn between 2020 and 2023 as the world economy digitizes, there’s never been a better time to realise the benefits.”