Is the Internet of Things the next wave for the mining industry?
The mining industry is growing up. Traditionally a labor-intensive and brute business, the sector has progressed significantly over the last few years, adopting newer technologies and leaner practices to the way it operates.
The emergence of big data has allowed mining manufacturers to predict and eliminate potential problems in machinery by collecting infinite amounts of data from their equipment and transforming it into usable information. The Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to take things further.
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The phrase “Internet of Things” is widely credited to Kevin Ashton while working at Proctor & Gamble in 1999.
Generally speaking, the IoT is a giant network of connected “things”. Unlike most data, which is produced and consumed by people (text, audio, video), this information is produced and consumed by machines, communicating between themselves to make improvements. The futuristic concept aims to replace the human decision-making process through analytics.
According to technology research consultant Gartner Inc., the number of connected products in the mining industry is expected to rise to 90 million in 2020 from 24 million in 2014. The 25 percent annual growth rate in mining connectivity is among the fastest among the industry sectors tracked by Gartner.
Equipment manufacturers are quickly jumping onboard. Caterpillar Inc. has already integrated its MineStar technology to manage everything from material tracking to sophisticated real-time fleet management, machine health systems, autonomous equipment systems and more.
The manufacturer recently partnered with Uptake earlier this year to consolidate its suite of data-driven services under a new analytics and innovation division.
“We’re not data scientists, but we’re leveraging people who are,” says Caterpillar’s Greg Folley, vice president in charge of the analytics division. “With the mountain of data we’re getting, if we manage it property, we can really turbocharge [machine] productivity.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Internet of Things is expected to provide new revenue streams to manufacturers by selling this unique information, which can be then be leveraged into additional services like sales of replacement parts, consulting services, etc.
“All of a sudden, we have a whole new way of making money that doesn’t rest on a customer throwing something out and buying new,” says Michael Porter, a Harvard University business school professor. “You can fix it before it fails and get paid for that.”
Like most things in life, technology is expected to take the mining industry into a new realm of productivity.
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.”