Industry Q&A: The Pathway Forwards Towards the Digital Mine
Now is an exciting time for the mining industry. Following the industry downturn, momentum is building for important industry change and it is critical that we keep our foot on the accelerator to continue to strive forward towards better outcomes.
Digitalisation is central to this transformation and we have already seen numerous examples of technology driven projects creating more efficient methods of operating, such as autonomous haulage systems and machine learning algorithms. With such rapid change in the industry, METS companies are investigating methods to offer additional technology and data driven value to their products and services, whilst miners are demanding greater visibility over operations. But organisations must be careful to strike the balance between adapting to new ways to work and being overloaded by data and information.
acQuire Technology Solutions are leading the way towards the digital mine and are driving improvement and organisational efficiency across the mining value chain through technology led innovation. Austmine recently caught up with Stephen Mundell, Director of Product at acQuire to get his thoughts on the future of mining and how we can create the pathway to the digital mine.
1. Digitalisation is disrupting numerous industries around the globe and mining is not immune to this. What trends do you perceive to be shaping the technological future of mining?
In the last few years we have seen digitalisation at the forefront of the industry’s attention. This focus has stemmed from the vision of the digital mine. Digital mine concepts are crystallising and as an industry we now have a good view of what it means and what it looks like.
A key factor in this shift has been the growing prominence and importance of the CIO and CTO within an organisation. Their thinking is driving ways to solve problems to improve efficiency and productivity through less siloed operations and ways to leverage investments across multiple capabilities.
When we look at this in the mining space, we see 6 key trends emerging:
1. Complex deposits - Orebodies are complex and we must mine deeper, more remotely and squeeze more and more out of deposits to meet demands. Whilst this is a major challenge, we have seen this create smarter mining. One initiative in particular is that organisations are trying to leverage data across the value chain and connect different data sources to get the insights that will help us mine better. This very much ties in with my previous comments around CIO thinking.
2. Productivity focus – There is a growing productivity focus across all of an organisations projects, not just individual operations. Global majors and mid-tiers are utilising technology to centralise visibility across their sites and are focusing on things that really need attention and improvements. This is driving easier ways to see everything on the radar.
3. Digitalisation – At a more tangible level, new sensors and devices are capturing more information than ever before, allowing us to have a deeper understanding of the resource. Whether this data captured from sensors replaces or augments human data capture depends on the situation, but it enables mining companies to have greater flexibility in their processes and make informed decisions.
4. Real Time Mining – It is now starting to become possible to have all the information on your radar in real time to make decisions to drive efficiency there and then. This is in comparison to times of the past where there would be long turn arounds for an action or a corrective decision to mine better. Organisations are also embracing the vision of having the data on any device and are hence shortening the length of time for decision-making.
5. Leveraging Technologies in Shorter Time-frames – Previously, it was very difficult for organisations to leverage new technologies as they were reliant on vendors to incorporate new innovations into their solutions. Mining companies are now looking at leveraging disruptive technologies in a shorter time frame. This has come through experimentation and adopting more of a fail-fast model. Through this, organisations are looking to strike that balance between technology adoption and stability that is needed in a production environment.
6. Everything is online – Sensors are connected to the cloud and the internet of things (IoT), meaning that an organisation’s information is all online. Whilst this creates ease in information sharing and reduces siloes for companies, there is an increased threat of cyber penetration and disruption to operations. Cyber security is a growing focus for mining companies.
2. With these trends in mind, how is acQuire preparing to not only survive, but prosper in this new industry environment?
acQuire has been in the mining industry for 22 years and we have an established product and customer base. The industry is going through this transition from the old school ways of working to the new ways of working and we want to be here for the long haul of a successful transformation.
Keys to this transition is to be able to have in-house innovation programs and for organisations to move work flows quickly across to this new world.
At acQuire we believe there are 4 parts to this:
1. Working closer with customers to navigate and thrive during the transition that the broader industry is going through. Closer partnerships allow for initiatives that look at addressing issues or creating new ways of working.
2. There must be a different collaborative mindset with other METS companies and we must work more closely together. It is important to recognise what value different vendors and parties within the partnership bring to the table to resolve customers’ problems, and we are keen to work in this space and build on our existing partner network so that our customers can leverage that.
3. On the technology side, we are focusing on investing in modern IT architecture for our software. Technology is an important piece in the broader business model.
4. Finally, we must continue to invest in the acQuire organisation to ensure it meets the evolving needs of our customers in this new environment.
3. As technology continues to advance and the pace of change increases, what impacts has this had on mining geoscience? What breakthroughs have been seen in this space?
I’d like to talk more about emergence rather than breakthroughs. There is a lot of emerging initiatives and concepts that have the capability to transform how geoscience operates in the mining industry.
Firstly, we have seen new technology change the way a geologists work. Effectively, it is enabling geologists to be geologists. Rather than spending large amounts of time collecting and “wrangling” data, they can work more effectively with the information and make interpretations from it.
Additionally, the new tools are enabling a more consistent and complete characterisation of the resource in the ground. With this greater visibility for geologists, we can really understand how to mine better, as all of the downstream processes are based on the model created by geoscience up front. For example, with sensors deployed to provide information in real time, decisions can be made to drill the next hole or not in the drilling program. This can result in a much more dynamic way of working, improving budgets and productivity.
Results from initiatives such as the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre (DET CRC) show a range of advances to lower the cost of drilling and improve the timely availability of data. As the technology is advancing it is also reducing safety implications by getting people out of harms way.
Following on from this, machine learning and artificial intelligence are both items showing real promise in the geoscience space.
4. It has been said that ‘data will become the most important resource to a mining company in the digital age.’ Do you agree with this statement? How can we leverage our data better?
In general terms I agree with this statement.
Leveraging data starts with the organisational culture around data and not with the technology itself. There must be a strong philosophy or underlying objective of why we are collecting data, how we share it and what we’re looking to get from it. If our objectives are clear then we can get true value from it.
We must then invest in modern architecture to enable us to leverage the data and transform it into actionable insights. If we’re doing this effectively, the outcomes will be improved turnaround times, decision making and efficiency.
Organisations can’t collect data for data sake, they must understand what question they’re asking first, then focus on what data is required to answer it. A culture around data driven decisions will drive this.
5. How can we change the current situation of siloed operations and equipment? As suppliers, how do we account for the impact of our offering across the mining value chain?
This is indeed the golden question and there are a confluence of issues to work through.
Unfortunately, the nature of our industry has been very siloed and we need to break that down. Smarter mining means leveraging data across the value chain.
There will be early adopters who are willing to make changes and then it is about partnering with the METS sector and for them to collaborate to solve problems. METS have the scope to band together to benefit all, but there has to be a commercial outcome and a real problem that the customer wants solved driving the process.
The biggest efficiency gains will be made by breaking down barriers across the value chain. We will then discover the true value of innovative ways of working.
Steve is the Director of Product for acQuire Technology Solutions. Before he joined acQuire in 2002, Steve worked as an underground mine geologist. His research interest in information management for the natural resources industry guides the product development for acQuire’s next generation geoscientific information management software.