Industry Q&A: Fostering a Culture of Innovation in a Mining Technology Organisation
Two of Austmine's core values as an industry body for the Mining Equipment, Technology and Services sector are Innovation and Leadership. One of our members who embody these is Schneider Electric. We caught up with Vinod Kandoi, National Segment Manager - Mining, Mineral and Metals to get his insights into the remainder of 2015, the innovation culture at Schneider Electric and how they understand the importance of data and a holistic approach to system integration to an improved productivity future.
In your opinion, will 2015 see an increase in the number of mining strategies, technologies and innovations being created and introduced? Should it, considering the current mining economy?
In the recent years we have seen a large number of incremental or point solutions being implemented to improve productivity and reduce costs. While this trend will continue, the industry will now invest more in broad transformation in relation to managing business, running operations and re-defining the workforce. Each of these areas is dependent on the other and hence a unified approach is a must.
The measures taken so far by the industry are not sufficient to deal with the productivity loss over the last decade. The softening commodity prices are adding to the pressures of profitability, competitiveness and, for some miners, even the survival. There is a need for a step change and this could come from whole-of-business response rather than piecemeal solutions.
For a business-wide transformation to be successful a solution should not be limited to technology. It must also cover people and business processes. All these must be aligned to the overall business strategy for the short term and the long term. This strategy is unique to each organization depending on the size of their operation, the commodities they are involved in, their markets and their objectives. The approach needs to be top-down and must include an end-to-end view, breaking down silos – not just from pit-to-port but also across functions like operations, sales, maintenance, engineering and corporate.
Another important matter that demands attention is managing workforce transformation. It will become increasingly difficulty to find people with right skill and experience and in the right location. We will see flexible and geographically spread teams working together, interpreting information and making decisions. The efficiency of people and consistency of their actions must be through systems and processes rather than years of experience. A lot of supposedly tacit knowledge or good intuition will be formalised and integrated in the operational excellence system. More resources will be engaged in business improvement activities and standardization of work procedures rather than routine or repetitive tasks which can be automated.
Australian METS are viewed as world leaders in innovation. How is Schneider Electric striving to drive innovation within the sector? How do you foster an innovation culture within your own organisation?
Today the mining industry recognizes that there are still plenty of opportunities to be explored. We see a lot of innovation driven by market volatility, lower grade and remote resources due to depletion, demand for increased safety, environmental concerns, the need for greater productivity and the workforce challenge.
We have built a global Centre of Expertise for Mining that studies industry trends, pain points and drivers. Our people work closely with universities with a view to align academia, industry and technology. We are trusted advisor to our customers and tailor solutions to their business strategy. These solutions could relate to their business processes and systems, workforce transformation, assets and supply chain.
Our goal is to bring efficiency and consistency of people and assets in a complex and scattered mining operation with severe and unpredictable working conditions and uncontrollable variation not just in ore quality but also in weather. The transformation does not have to happen overnight. We help our customers start with low hanging fruits such as minimizing down time and delays, improving asset utilization in real-time and integrating supply chain. However we strive to ensure these smaller pieces of puzzle are oriented to fit the bigger picture of the future. Another important aspect we focus on is the integration technology. It must bring discrete systems of all vendors to a single platform. This is with a view to vertical as well as horizontal integration.
With such a heavy focus in mining operations still on the decline of productivity, where are the biggest productivity gains left to be had within operations?
Most mining companies are already using real-time and interactive access to information needed for planning, managing and optimising mine operations. We see greater use of big data coming out of seemingly dissimilar systems. This data could relate to internal and external constraints and will be used in real-time for further improvement in integrated planning and optimisation. The systems could for example relate to market demand, ore tracking, blending quality control, mobile equipment tracking, water management, process control, weather forecast, energy usage, transport and port. Another key focus will be to improve processing outcome through the use of advanced analytical tools and predictive models on real-time big data.
Decision makers are good at intervening in abnormal situations and in applying non-linear reasoning but for this to happen they must have the right information and intelligence which would come from better application of big data to the complexities of mining operation, analytics, simulation and modeling.
There is scope for considerable improvement in efficiency of people as a team and consistency of their work. The efficiency is generated from running a flexible operational team in multiple locations along with a team of virtual experts. The consistency would be achieved through the use of workflow technology to institutionalise their business processes. It would leave no wiggle room for people to find short cuts which are not optimal for the business.
Change management is extremely important in use of new technology and implementation of new processes in existing operation for a sustainable outcome. Care has to be taken that old processes, which may not be optimal, are not carried into brown field or green field projects as people from existing operations could be leading the new projects.
A holistic approach in system design and implementation will result in a stronger outcome in the long run. This requires integrating sustainability (safety, optimal use of energy and water and minimizing harm to environment), real-time asset utilization and supply chain solutions in the company’s business system.
Schneider Electric was a major sponsor of Austmine 2015: Transforming Mining. Why are events like this so important for improving collaboration and innovation within the sector?
Such events are great for understanding trends, exchanging views and ideas with the thought leaders and discovering the future directions of the industry. We get to hear from speakers from a wide cross-section of the industry. It is also a great opportunity for us to network with the end-users and fellow METS companies.