Software company Dassault Systemes last week hosted a National Resources Forum conference, which showcased how mining technology, and the thinking behind it, have evolved as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
Dassault Systemes natural resources director Fiona Carew discussed the orchestration of an ecosystem for mining success, highlighting that mining had evolved from planning on paper to the companywide use of disruptive technologies such as computers, which opened the door for software. “The priorities and means of implementing them have changed rapidly.”
In turn, software enabled the creation of models in three-dimensional (3D) perspective, which expanded the ecosystem further.
She said the next disruption came not from technology, but from people in the ecosystem – investors, who set conditions of sustainability before investing capital in projects.
They also required community development, social advancement and protection of the environment.
Carew pointed out that responsibility was then centred on the local economy, social development, government interaction and community interaction, instead of just pulling minerals out of the earth.
She said the opportunity for innovation did not come for many years, until miners decided to look at the value chain and talk to all the shareholders – smelters, refiners, logistics managers, suppliers and the end-user. “The ecosystem started centralising around interaction and interceding, which was challenging in an industry that is isolated and insulated.”
Carew noted that the expansion of the mining ecosystem was becoming increasingly critical, since deposits were becoming fewer, lower in grade and located in more remote regions, which required new thinking and methodologies.
She said that, at the same time that 4IR was disrupting industry, the world was spawning a new generation of workers that would not accept what some mines were still currently doing.
“Everyone talks about and considers 4IR technologies, such as Big Data with analytics, robotics, 3D printing and augmented reality.” She questioned whether it was embedded in mines’ ecosystems.
Collaboration in Mining
Carew said miners could not continue to operate in silos. For example, the most significant change in the mining industry had come about with battery minerals. The European Battery Alliance (EBA) comprised various battery value chain companies, which worked towards clean energy and setting standards for the battery manufacturing market.
The EBA had established a cross-industry framework, which entailed securing material, promoting innovation and putting in place rules for battery production, incorporating service providers, manufacturers, universities, governments and suppliers. Carew said this would undoubtedly affect the mining industry, since the minerals for batteries were mined and also because mines were increasingly using electric vehicles on the mines.
The battery boom provided the opportunity for upstream thinking and, therefore, innovation, averred Carew. Miners needed to adopt upstream thinking to ensure competitiveness and a healthy ecosystem with stakeholders, looking at what would, ultimately, be manufactured and even designed for recycling in collaboration with value chain members.
Carew said collaborations were the way of the future to enable innovation. She added that drivers towards this movement in the mining industry would be changing deposits, changing business models and 4IR, as well as workers who believed in social and environmental improvement.
“We need to orchestrate the digital operation, bringing virtual reality and reality together, looking at the operability of the parts of the ecosystem and doing things differently.
“Ultimately, mining is still about the tonnes produced, but evolving relationships can bring about traceability, flexibility, productivity and efficiency.”
Tech to Suit
In this collaborative environment, it was necessary to use social tools that could take an idea to monetisation, said Dassault Systemes brand Geovia CEO Raoul Jacquand.
He explained that a case in point was electronic communication, which facilitated transparency, urgency, centrality and collaboration, all of which accelerated the process of innovation.
Jacquand said collaborative innovation tore down organisational silos, owing to the free flow of data that enabled co-creation and, ultimately, created more opportunity for creativity.
Geovia portfolio management director Andy Mulholland discussed the technologies the company offered to facilitate collaborative innovation and an expanded ecosystem.
Dassault offers 3D Experience, which is software that is able to create a digital twin of a mine, city, plant or machine, representing the real-world entity or system.
Dassault’s 3D Experience can capture data from remote sensing information, input from experts, drone surveys, as well as from machines that operate on site, and even other asset management systems. Data is then combined into a single, unified model, which is accessible to other stakeholders in the mines’ ecosystem, if the mines wish to share information.
Data can be integrated into the software across the exploration phase, geology, engineering, scheduling and planning, production and logistic aspects around the mine to create a digital mine twin.
Mulholland said the software assisted the autonomous mining process, enabling terrain modelling, virtual tours, interactive planning and geological modelling of the mine.
Jacquand concluded that the low-hanging fruit, through the adoption of appropriate technologies, was already there for mines to reap.