Austmine Mining Innovation Roadmap Session: IMARC 2016
During the course of 2016, Austmine ran three industry collaboration laboratories – Co-Labs- with one more to come in February 2017. These are day long workshops, of highly specialised mining industry executives working together to unpack four major sector challenges, and then brainstorming a range of strategies, solutions and partnerships to take forward.
The first of these was Next Generation Mineral Extraction in Perth, focusing on the unprecedented challenges being faced by miners today with increasing costs, diminishing ore grades, greater mineral depths, and complex mineralogy leading to a severe decline in multi-factor productivity.
The second Co-Lab took place in Newcastle, where attendees looked at Performance Improvement Now. The purpose of this Co-Lab was to identify what more can be done by the industry to help drive better performance outcomes in the current industry environment, which is in the third wave of the downturn, where the big cuts have been made and a shift into process improvement and re-engineering is occurring, with some lag still from the second stage of sweating the assets.
The third Co-Lab was in Brisbane and centred around the Digital Mine. At this Co-Lab, we brought together leading industry experts from miners, METS and researchers to discuss ways to transform mining operations from unproductive and inefficient traditional methods to streamlined and optimised approaches that leverage digital technologies, data, communications and IT systems.
The final Co-Lab will take place in Adelaide on 27 February 2017 on the topic of Small Footprint Mining. This will focus on creating a step change in energy efficiency, water use, re-use and recycling, waste and emissions reductions, driving a greater awareness and social acceptance of mining within local communities.
The Interactive Mining Innovation Roadmap Session in Austmine’s stream at IMARC developed further on these four topics, allowing the entire sector input into major strategies that have emerged from our initial workshops.
Overview of the Session:
This Interactive Mining Innovation Roadmap Session kicked off with a couple of scene setting presentations, before breaking down into 6 discussion groups with about 100 participants in total. Over 40 minutes, these groups worked on two different questions and their job for each question was to identify the key 1 – 3 things we needed as an industry to do, to achieve the outcome stated in that question.
The two questions were:
1. What can we do collectively to change the paradigm of how we operate across the mining value chain to reduce capital intensity and increase profits?
2. How can we collectively accelerate the value derived from a digital mine?
Question 1 - Changing the Paradigm of how we operate
Six key themes were drawn from the discussions:
1. Knowledge management and sharing
Group discussions focussed on the tendency for miners and METS to be reluctant to share information and data with clients, partners, collaborators and suppliers. Not only this, companies often have internal breakdowns in communication, due to the current siloed nature of many mining companies. There is a need for organisations to restructure towards a flatter hierarchy, where decisions can be made quickly and efficiently at every level, using real-time information generated by sensors.
Participants suggested an industry-wide identification of and agreement upon key problems, that would allow for the discovery of shared solutions through collaboration. An interesting idea presented in this session was for miners and METS to hold open house days, where visitors can gain a better understanding of their operations and key problems, and save time and effort therefore in the process of working to solve these problems.
2. Alignment across mining industry as a whole
There was a general consensus that the mining and METS sectors must establish a roadmap that provides a broad understanding of exactly where we want to go and how we can get there. Shared metrics and visibility of data and learnings between companies, both miners and METS, will be key for the progression of a roadmap, aligning with the first theme of knowledge management and sharing. Benchmarking by using KPIs on both an industry-wide and company-wide level would provide a greater degree of clarity around business performance and is an area that we can look to other industries and existing benchmarking studies for direction.
3. Innovation and Automation
Automation was a major theme across the three days in the Technology Theatre, with the productivity and safety benefits discussed in many sessions. Participants in the roadmap session pointed to the need for the mining sector to embrace automated technologies, both at mine sites and processing plants, to streamline operations and reduce instances of shut downs and human errors.
Other approaches discussed included modularity in processing, allowing for more controlled operations, greater flexibility and quicker interconnectivity of systems. More effective use of technology to improve the characterisation of ore material based on geology through the plant was another initiative highlighted that would reduce capital intensity of mineral processing.
Attendees discussed the disconnect between the amount of data being generated at mine sites and processing plants every day and how that data is actually utilised. A lot of critical information is currently lost in translation, unreliable or disregarded as irrelevant to operational objectives. The idea was raised that the sector must treat data as an asset, as it does a machine, to get the best out of it. This means better data maintenance and a change in mindset that would position data as central to business procedures, with the result of more reliable, accurate and better utilised data. Open source data platforms were seen as a solution to many data management problems, with a range of public providers available.
5. Partnerships and business models
It was recognised that METS companies must take a deep look at the way that they conduct business to ensure that their business model will remain relevant and sustainable as the mining sector continues to transform. Partnerships were identified as critical to the success of many METS companies, especially smaller players. Indeed, the mining sector has already seen the benefits of harnessing the knowledge and expertise of two or more entities in a range of different collaborative initiatives throughout the year.
Attendees then expanded on the partnership model, by recognising what a successful partnership requires. All parties must have some skin in the game, as a more equal sharing of risk and reward is likely to produce better outcomes. There is also an opportunity for like-minded METS to take their collaborative approach even further by pursuing cooperative selling, which allows businesses access to a wider range of mining contacts than their own network.
6. Leadership and education
Many executives and senior managers in METS companies come from a technical background rather than a business background, meaning that they sometimes don’t have sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions on financial matters, communications strategies and other supporting business activities.
The roadmap session uncovered a range of ideas to create industry-led programs to educate these executives on core business practices to ensure a sustainable METS sector. There is also a need for METS to better understand the procurement and technical procedures within mining companies which would allow them to position their product to end-users more effectively.
Question 2 – Accelerating the Value Derived from the Digital Mine
Many of the issues discussed during the digital mine session were previously raised in the brainstorming during the first question, giving an indication of the key role that participants believe that data will play in improving performance across the mining value chain. Five key areas in deriving greater value from digital mining were identified by the breakout groups:
1. Right data to the right people
Groups considered the under-utilisation of data and concluded that the prime reason for this occurring is that data is too often going to the wrong person within an organisation. Therefore, information could be useful to one department in a company is being discarded as irrelevant by another. Transparency was seen as crucial to overcoming this situation, with information sharing across the company allowing for data to be used to tackle collective KPIs, rather than being used in isolation.
Educating operators on how to leverage data was also highlighted as an area that needs development, with the aim of creating a workforce that is readily equipped to utilise data regardless of their role in the value chain. This also means that data can be disseminated and utilised in-house, rather than requiring the assistance of a third-party provider.
2. Interoperability between systems of METS and miners
The conversation shifted towards miners and METS too often using different metrics and systems when deploying data. This is a major reason for the high cost and disruptive nature of implementing new systems and technologies into existing business processes. The development of common data standards between METS and miners was set as a priority to reducing the risk of installing new systems. This would require each of these parties to come together and collaboratively discuss what they need from their data and how those requirements can be adopted into a common format.
3. Understanding data requirements to drive research
The ability for the mining sector to remain sustainable and competitive in the long-term will rely to a large degree on research finding solutions to many of the pressing issues that we are facing. However, there is often a disconnect between the objectives of private enterprise and research institutes, which is often reflected in the information and data requirements of each entity.
Through collaboration, partnerships and open-forums these priority issues can be identified and the required information and data can be made transparent between each separate entity. There was also discussion about an overarching collaboration framework with research institutes that would assist in identifying and solving the priority issues for the mining industry by using operational data from a multitude of sources. An emphasis was placed on the opportunities for sharing information in order to better map the resource in the ground by linking it to historical reports and data sources both up-stream and down-stream.
4. Benchmarking data
There was a focus on taking a holistic approach to benchmarking data, requiring that the data be divorced from siloed KPIs and tying them to the goals of the overall company. By setting more appropriate KPIs and communicating these across the organisation, data can be integrated and utilised more effectively across operations, rather than used in isolated circumstances that lead to individual departments hitting KPIs, but the company underperforming. Changing the mindset of senior leaders and middle managers in the sector about how they align KPIs was flagged as critical to stopping the current sub-optimisation of data in mining operations, with reducing silos an integral part of this.
5. Digital Culture
Participants spoke about the need for organisational culture and structures to change and become aligned with the new way that business is being performed in the mining sector, adjusting for the impact of digital technologies and innovation. Whilst there is a number of gadgets, applications and software packages available to miners, to move towards the high-tech sector that we envision, leaders must instil a digital culture that seeks to make the most out of these technologies by integrating them company-wide from top to bottom.
Whether it be at the head office or at the coal-face, a break-down in this digital culture means that the company is operating sub-optimally and not using technologies to their full capacity. However, it was recognised that creating a digital culture is not easy. It will require significant training and education on utilising technologies, as well as changing the attitude of the workforce to one that views technology as an enabler rather than a threat to their employment. Austmine will be coordinating a webinar on this topic in April, register here.
Where do we go from here?
Many of the results presented above validated those drawn from the Co-Labs, whilst others added ideas that were missing or developed new concepts altogether. It was an important exercise for Austmine to gather the broader view of the METS and mining community on these issues and also share what we have learnt as well.
These outcomes will be incorporated into a number of working groups that were established at the Co-Labs and factored into future Co-Labs. They also give Austmine a more concise scope from which to provide events, webinars and workshops in 2017 that will better focus on the priorities of the METS and mining sectors.