JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Diversified miner Vedanta Resources' Zinc International (VZI) has announced a greenfield digitalisation initiative, which will see a ‘Smart Ore Movement’ system built into its flagship Gamsberg zinc project.
The project, which is being undertaken in collaboration with digital industrial company GE South Africa, which partnered with enterprise mine software developer MineRP, will see the implementation of breakthrough systems in the development phase of the Gamsberg project, as opposed to waiting for the project to come on line and then attempt to retrofit the systems.
The $400-million Gamsberg project, currently being developed in the Northern Cape, is scheduled to start production in mid-2018.
“VZI places great emphasis on the concept of ‘Adapt and Thrive’ across all areas of our business. A core philosophy at Vedanta is to embrace new technologies and practices, and we welcome the opportunity to become part of the disruption revolution,” VZI CEO Deshnee Naidoo noted during a media briefing, in Johannesburg, on Monday.
She stressed that people-centric technology had the potential to be part of the processes adopted by mining companies to offer employees, communities and investors a different future.
“Working smarter through technology and digitalisation is one of our seven core pillars at Vedanta. We are acquiring best-in-class technology for our assets, and focusing on creating our own. Last year, the wider group initiated a $30-million investment fund for in-house research and development, supporting our wealth of knowledge and spirit of innovation with meaningful resources,” Naidoo said.
SMART ORE MOVEMENT
The concept of ‘Smart Ore Movement’ centres on the need to ensure that all available information about the state of the mine, the quality of ore, the conditions of the processing plant and the value of the output product are not only made available to the mine management team in real-time, but that the information is presented in such a way that it allows for minute-by-minute decision-making.
This digital transformation project will target the elimination of inefficiencies that would typically exist in today’s mining operations, through the application of a new culture combined with digital technology and a customised delivery approach.
As Gamsberg is a greenfield project, this will allow for the project to start operations with best practices already in place. These best practices can then be replicated in subsequent phases, as well as across other parts of the company. VZI sees this as protection against the uncertainties of inevitable disruption and intense competition, as well as an opportunity to capitalise on being the disruptor.
GE will take the strategic leadership role in the partnership. The company’s Predix platform for the industrial Internet will form the integration layer for Smart Ore Movement and further initiatives, such as cybersecurity, asset performance management and operations performance management solutions. GE will use the expertise gathered in other industries to provide seamless integration in a one-stop-shop type of environment.
MineRP will focus on enabling real-time decision-making through visibility by providing immediate access to information in relevant contexts; and through insight into the conditions, relationships and trends that are not otherwise apparent.
MineRP CEO Pieter Nel explained that, for example, the ability to adjust the blending strategy based on real-time grade reconciliation will ensure a constant feed grade to the plant.
This is achieved through the MineRP4.0 product-set that ingests spatially oriented data, such as the geology and mine designs from their source systems along with the shovel, trucks and stockpile positions from GE’s collision avoidance systems.
MineRP4.0 will do live calculations and optimisation of the blending and grade models to guide the contracted fleet and provide early warning to the plant, through GE’s Predix platform.
VZI Digitalisation and Technology head Dave Payne explained that, in terms of Smart Ore Movement, four projects will be considered: spatial data infrastructure, stockpile grade modelling, blending management and production key performance indicator reconciliation.
“These four projects provide near real-time data across a portion of the mining value chain, which will include geological modelling, mine planning, mine surveying and mining operations,” he said, adding that it will provide Gamsberg’s management with the vision across the system to effectively manage production.
Naidoo estimated the project’s investment to amount to about $4-million over the next three years.
“The partnership that is achieving this leading practice is a global one, using local expertise. It will play a crucial part in the realisation of the vision of the Black Mountain Mining Complex, which will be a game-changer for the Northern Cape, as well as the Southern African zinc industry,” Naidoo said.
She highlighted that the initiative is about helping the VZI on-mine teams become more efficient and effective.
“We know what challenges we need to solve to operate optimally – this partnership is about addressing those,” Naidoo added.
GE South Africa CEO Thomas Konditi noted that mining remained an important industry. While GE focuses on providing integrated solutions across all sectors, the company leverages solutions from one sector or industry and applies them to another.
He explained that GE has deployed a similar approach in digital industrial mining, noting that the objective is more than just efficiency, as the quality of the ore produced is also important.
“Together we are transforming the entire industry and building sustainable mining and contributing positively to the economy of South Africa and the region,” he said, adding that GE was confident that this partnership “will meet the scale, speed, complexity and other requirements of the mining industry”.
He noted that, despite the mining industry going through ups and downs, one of the highlights was when South Africa was held up as one of the most innovative mining countries in the world to which people looked for ideas.
“Taking this concept of digitalisation and combining it with greenfield or brownfield operations, . . . gives us the opportunity to innovate in a way that brings South Africa again to the forefront,” he said.
Nel also shared MineRP’s commitment to the global mining industry and its partners, highlighting that the company has invested heavily in creating an internationally recognised software platform for the amalgamation of disparate mining technical data, and the unification of the technical and financial information domains in the mining industry.
“The MineRP platform is foundational to digitally transforming mining. Further, the company has worked very hard over the past years to develop value-driven partnerships for digital transformation with global companies such as GE, and we’re proud to participate in this project with them,” he said.
Naidoo further noted that through the use of this technology and from the insight gained, miners could go back to mining areas that weren’t previously safe or economic to mine and make them safer and profitable.
“It is bringing the mining data that you wouldn’t typically have had in real-time, together to [generate] the insights to be more proactive more quickly to make projects more feasible,” she enthused.
Naidoo added that these insights allow for miners to reduce the process variation within mining operations.
“There is value in reducing your process variability, but in addition, mining is all about blending and stockpile management. Depending on the height or trough of the cycle we are in, we can be a lot more selective in how we want to mine what and at what price point,” she said.
Naidoo and Payne emphasised that the digitalisation project was only the start of the journey, as VZI will also consider asset performance management in the processing plant, as well as operational performance management at Gamsberg.
VZI, however, has other collaborations at its existing operations and is driving the development of these operations into the next generation of digitally enabled mines.