Of all the trends impacting on the mining industry, none will be as critical as digitalisation, says power management and automation systems Schneider Electric South Africa mining, minerals and metals (MMM) Africa business VP Wilhelm Swart.
He says digitalisation impact on every aspect of the industry’s operation and provide the greatest potential for improving business and operational efficiency.
The internet of things (IoT) will enhance mining, states Swart, adding that the rewards are significant for those willing to implement IoT solutions. “It has been estimated that, in the next five years, mining industry leaders will achieve their most significant improvements by embracing digital technologies like the IoT and advanced analytics that can harness the power of big data.”
Despite “mining facing significant challenges, the fundamentals are sound,” he says, and Schneider Electric expecting that increased demand for mined raw materials will be driven by population growth, as well as rapid and increasing urbanisation.
Digitalisation is one of the industry’s most challenging problems, with Schneider Electric’s integrated mining operations software Ampla having become somewhat of the “de facto standard” solution to integrating digitalisation, adds Swart.
Ampla is a modular software suite with specific mining functionality that supports mine operations, from extraction and processing, blending and storage, to shipping logistics.
Ampla, says Swart, allows for value chain visibility and enhancement by collecting data automatically from multiple plant and business systems or through manual data entry. The software then establishes one trusted source of information, which can be collaboratively used to drive efficiency, reduce costs and make better business decisions.
He points out that the software was recently implemented globally across five mine sites of a major metals mining company, where it improved capacity by more than 10% with the system being used to monitor and capture real-time asset performance and condition data, and to provide root-cause analysis when assets were being underused.
The company’s resource-to-market integrated solution consolidates and manages data from multiple mine, plant and business systems, thereby enabling clients to identify production issues, manage inventory and quality, track and manage production and asset performance, understand costs, and analyse business key performance indicators.
One of the main challenges in the implementation of digital technologies is making real-time decisions based on information from various databases and applications, Swart points out.
In this regard, Schneider Electric devotes 5% of sales to research and development, thereby translating into enhanced development of technology that can provide the most value for clients, including the integration of mining operations from resource to market, otherwise known as pit to port.
Swart highlights that the company is leveraging solutions from its primary domains of expertise: information technology, buildings, industry and infrastructure, and utilities to help companies in the mining sector achieve new levels of efficiency and productivity.
The company’s competitive advantage is its IoT digital platform EcoStruxure, which is underpinned by a combination of people and technology, he says.
Remaining ahead of the curve is tough in terms of adapting to market changes and advances in technology, especially in mining, where change is constant, but Swart cites open platforms, the IoT and digitalisation as good examples.