Saturday, 5 December 2020
Austmine’s Adelaide Mining Innovation Roadshow Review: Médéric Suon, Chief Digital Officer, Société Le Nickel
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Austmine’s Adelaide Mining Innovation Roadshow Review: Médéric Suon, Chief Digital Officer, Société Le Nickel

By Sheldon Varcoe, Membership & Communications Manager, Austmine

Attendees at Austmine’s Adelaide Mining Innovation Roadshow gained an unparalleled perspective of the innovation landscape in New Caledonia, with Médéric Suon, Chief Digital Officer, Société Le Nickel (SLN) joining us to present ‘Digital Transformation at SLN – A Journey Towards Mine and Plant 4.0.’

SLN is part of the French Eramet Group, who own a number of mineral deposits and industrial complexes in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and the South Pacific.

The SLN group is the oldest operating miner in New Caledonia, with its nickel production dating back over 100 years. Nickel extraction takes place from a number of surface mines across the country, and ore is then transported to their large Doniambo process plant in Noumea. The ore is then smelted and refined, before being shipped to Asia for use in stainless steel production.

Given the unique operating circumstances for SLN, digital transformation and the adoption of smart technologies is central to ongoing performance improvement and long-term sustainability.

Mederic leads the digital transformation journey at SLN, working with digital leaders across the Eramet group to identify, analyse and improve innovative technologies and software.

Eramet & SLN Digital Vision

The digital strategy underpins all aspects of their business to achieve their strategic vision of being a sustainable value creator and responsible corporate citizen. The major driver for the program was to be ahead of industry disruption, and an awareness that the digital evolution is currently outpacing development within many businesses.

The approach of SLN is of open innovation and was expressed by Mederic as “You don’t know what you don’t know.” This means they are investigating many digital solutions, such as drones, artificial intelligence, automation and blockchain. However, any solutions offered by suppliers must ensure cyber security is foremost.

SLN have separated their digital transformation into two key areas, Mine 4.0 and Plant 4.0.

Mine 4.0

Mine 4.0 seeks to advance and update their numerous mineral extraction sites across the country. This has three key components:

  • Operational Excellence – Identification of the best solutions across the value chain and implementing them in a standardised manor across the Eramet group.
    • Current focus areas - fatigue management, planning tools and inventory and performance management software.
  • Connected Mine – Centralised sharing of information in real-time and support from a remote operations centre.
    • Current focus areas – IoT sensors, fleet management systems and mobility tools.
  • Smart Mine – Automation of all mining operations through robotisation and artificial intelligence.
    • Current focus areas – autonomous drones, collision avoidance systems and artificial intelligence for estimation and production.

Plant 4.0

SLN’s Plant 4.0 strategy runs across three major cost centres – maintenance, energy and processing.

  • Maintenance – Aims to move their operations from reactive to predictive by using powerful digital tools.
    • Current focus areas – patrolling and thermographic sensors via tablets, connected sensors and spare part 3D printing.
  • Energy – Transitioning from current energy reserves and monitoring to an optimised energy mix.
    • Current focus areas – thermographic drone inspections, IoT energy sensors, advanced control and energy mix optimisation using software tools.
  • Process – Delivering optimised processing through harnessing digital technologies and software.
    • Current focus areas – VR training, remote control and artificial intelligence for metallurgical guidance.

Lessons from the Journey

While SLN’s digital transformation strategy is a continuous process, they have picked up some key lessons along the way.

  • Digitalising a non-lean process will only create more waste;
  • Adopt an Eramet Group Standard with the digital transformation team and aim at international employment;
  • Success will be seen as a combination of the solution and adoption. Therefore, change management is critical and training services must be in French;
  • Don’t use Proof of Concept but rather Proof of Value through 3 months on a pilot site;
  • Continually discover new technologies in an open innovation approach.

Austmine would like to thank Médéric for taking the time and energy to visit Australia and present at the Roadshow. New Caledonia is a key market for our METS organisations and collaborative initiatives such as these are central to building understanding and links into the market.

Austmine will be coordinating a New Caledonia Mining Mission in 2020. Contact for more information.  

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