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 last month.
She stressed that peoplecentric technology had the potential to be part of the processes adopted by mining companies to offer employees, communities and investors a different future.
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 is 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 typical inefficiencies 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 in place, which can be replicated in subsequent phases, as well as across 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 acquired in other industries to provide seamless integration into a one-stop-shop-type 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 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 would ensure a constant feed grade.
This is achieved through the MineRP4.0 product set that ingests spatially orientated 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 Predix.
VZI digitalisation and technology head Dave Payne explained that four projects would be considered for the Smart Ore Movement project: spatial data infrastructure, stockpile grade modelling, blend management and production, and 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.
Naidoo estimated the project’s investment at $4-million over the next three years.
GE South Africa CEO Thomas Konditi noted that GE focused on providing integrated solutions across all sectors and leveraged solutions from one sector or industry and applied them to another.
He explained that the objective was more than just efficiency, as the quality of the ore produced was 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 it was encouraging 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 . . . [affords] us the opportunity to innovate in a way that brings South Africa to the forefront again,” he said.
Nel shared MineRP’s commitment to the global mining industry and its partners, highlighting that the company had invested heavily in creating an internationally recognised software platform for the amalgamation of disparate mining technical data, including the unification of technical with financial information.
“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 were not previously safe or economic to mine.
“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.