Mining and data in 2017 Pt 1
What do you think will...
We speak with Ashley Bosworth, Director of Analytics and Innovation at Pulse Mining on the year ahead for the mining industry:
What do you think will be the biggest change in the mining industry in 2017?
In terms of the political landscape 2017 is shaping up to be one of the most volatile years in decades. This volatility has the potential to impact mining markets in a major way, particularly where China is involved, be it as a consumer/importer of commodities such as coal and iron ore, or as an exporter of rare earth minerals.
Seaborne market susceptibility to Chinese regulatory change for coal and energy production was definitively demonstrated in 2016, and from 2017 onwards this situation has the potential to be amplified through the possibility of a trade war with the USA (if President Trump’s rhetoric becomes reality).
Further disruption to international markets is possible if the US can re-enter the coal export market in any significant fashion. For instance, if President Trump is somehow able to clear existing state impediments to Powder River Basin coal reaching Pacific coast ports, the shipping of thermal coal at approx. $US 10/short ton would prove to be a huge disruptor to the current global seaborne market.
All of this leads us at Pulse Mining to believe that the biggest change in the mining industry in 2017 will not be from uptake of automated vehicles or other technological innovation in the hardware/machinery space, or indeed changes in work practices, but in the rate of development and uptake of predictive analytics and scenario planning to enable miners to become much more agile in the marketplace.
Several other changes will necessarily support the rise of predictive analytics, including increased:
- Sharing of data across systems (including between machines via IoT)
- Digitisation, which will significantly decrease the need for data entry
- Real-time reporting against performance metrics and KPI’s
- Ability to intervene in real-time to improve performance.
What sectors in mining are growing, and which ones are at risk?
As previously noted, the immediate market future of bulk commodities such as coal and iron ore is largely dependent on Chinese demand and regulation/legislation. In the longer term developing markets in Asia may take up some of the slack as China reduces demand.
In volatile times demand for gold, diamonds and other ‘haven’ commodities will potentially rise as a form of safety net for investors, as it has done during times of recession in the past. There is also potential for demand for commodities and minerals used in high-tech manufacture to continue to grow, particularly the rarer minerals – e.g. tungsten, antimony, bismuth, molybdenum, strontium. It should be noted that China is currently the leading producer of all these.
What role will analytics play in companies during 2017?
Analytics will play an enormously significant role in mining companies during 2017 in two main areas:
- Embedding predictive analytics and scenario planning in BAU (business as usual) processes to enable miners to become much more agile in the marketplace
- Enabling operational excellence – this remains important, particularly in terms of improving productivity and was the number 1 trend for 2016 identified by Deloitte in their Tracking the Trends 2016 report.
Will more employees in the mining sector start using data in their daily lives?
Definitely – this is already happening. Data (and analytics) usage will become ‘common place’ right across the mining landscape, from production at the pit to shipping from the port.
As in other industries, we are increasingly seeing demand for analytics, and to a lesser extent data entry, on mobile devices, together with data mash-up from multiple sources (business systems, machinery, localised systems, etc.).
How close to the “coal face” will data get, and how much difference will it make to day-to-day activities?
Data is already right at the ‘coal face’ – mining machinery such as continuous miners are fitted with hundreds of sensors that capture and transmit data continuously. The changes that are happening are more around the timeliness of using such data, than its availability. For instance, many companies currently only view the machine data (in the form of OEM reports (Original Equipment Manufacturer) daily... this does not allow for on-the-fly adjustments to production to be made.
With our suite of operationally-focused, IoT-enabled, mining-specific analytics apps,
Pulse Mining is moving beyond the limits of the OEM reports. Connectivity via IoT now means that this data can be collated and analysed, combined with data from other relevant sources, and presented either in real-time on a mobile device or emailed to stakeholders in accordance with a pre-determined schedule.
The January 2017 issue of Mining Global is live!
Get in touch with our editor Dale Benton at [email protected]
Smarter Technologies: transforming operations with IoT
Digital technology has become a key enabler of margin improvement and an enhancer of competitiveness in the mining sector. Although the majority of the top mining businesses have already started their digital journey in some capacity, many of the smaller players are lagging behind when it comes to digital transformation.
Smart Mining with IoT
Recent analysis by Allied Market Research, which estimates that the global smart mining industry is projected to reach $24bn by 2027, relays fears that those that don't join the big players in the digital uptake of solutions like IoT, will be left behind.
“As a traditionally risk-averse industry, many mining sector stakeholders struggle to invest in new technologies without a guaranteed return on investment (ROI),” explains Matthew Margetts, Director of Sales & Marketing at Smarter Technologies – suppliers of IoT solutions to the UK’s Ministry of Defence and the Royal Air Force. “Innovative miners at all levels are using new technologies to make mining operations safer, more productive, and more cost-efficient.”
Mines are often dangerous places to work, and worker health and safety are top priorities for mining operations. Smart Mining Technology keeps track of your assets and has the potential to improve mine safety in several ways: locate people, recover machinery and reduce the risk of serious injury.
Autonomous mining vehicles have been around for nearly two decades. During this time, these vehicles have revolutionised mining by allowing humans to communicate with and control machinery remotely. In this day and age, the focus has shifted from the original autonomous mining vehicles to autonomous mining systems, which can carry out a series of integrated tasks automatically. Removing the need for humans to be on-site increases workforce safety.
The benefits of autonomous mining functions include:
- Improved safety
- Decreased incidents
- The ability to work in areas that would be too dangerous for humans
- Increased productivity
- Reduced labour costs
Predictive analysis and insights
When mining assets are connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) and a central management system, this enables operational intelligence. By analysing operational data, mining operators are better equipped to foresee and prevent any dangerous incidents from occurring. The ability to conduct predictive maintenance also means a lower risk of mechanical breakdown and failure.
Wearable technologies have become more advanced and non-invasive, making it easier to track the mining workforce, even deep underground and in remote locations. With real-time visibility of all staff, key workers can be located instantly. In the event of an emergency, response times and recovery rates are significantly improved. Along with improved safety, workforce tracking data can also be used to monitor staff attendance and identify where productivity can be increased.
A series of smart IoT sensors can measure virtually anything - from pressure to humidity, temperature, air quality, gas levels, sound and more. If the conditions in a specific area change in any predefined way, instant notifications can alert teams of potential safety risks and potentially prevent incidents before they occur.
Increase efficiency and reduced operational costs
Making mines “smart” has the effect of lowering operational costs. In a smart mine, key assets are digitised by embedding smart sensors that report data to a central system via a wireless network. Many of the same use cases of smart mining technology mentioned above not only improve mine safety, but also help to reduce operational costs.
Wireless monitoring systems that relay real-time data lower operational costs in a number of ways:
- Reduced reliance on paying human resources
- Reduced reliance on vehicles and petrol costs for data and asset collection
- No need for expensive cabling and system maintenance operations
- Maintaining critical assets more effectively increases return on investment
Having real-time visibility of mining assets allows you to track the location of your mining equipment when you need to use it. This is especially useful as self-driving machinery becomes more widely adopted in the industry. Instead of wasting time searching for various assets, you’ll be able to optimise productivity and profitability by streamlining your operations from your central management dashboard.
Automating the data gathering processes using smart technology reduces the need for time-consuming and potentially dangerous data collection. Access to real-time data is critical to optimising efficiencies and reducing costs. In contrast, by the time a worker has collected information and returned to the office, the data they have gathered is already outdated.
Maintenance and management
With real-time data connectivity and data analytics, you can optimise your mine’s maintenance schedules and production rates dynamically. With predictive analytics enabled by smart tracking and condition monitoring, you’ll be able to quickly identify required changes to predefined maintenance schedules to keep your equipment running efficiently and safely. This too avoids potential incidents that can disrupt or halt operations for weeks or months, in turn keeping the mine running and generating profits.
Although there are barriers to mines adopting new technologies, these must be overcome in order for mines to remain competitive and successful in an increasingly digital age. From improving safety to enhancing productivity and efficiency, smart mines are the future of the industry.