Diamond company De Beers’ marine mining division is currently running a pilot project to assess the feasibility of implementing digital transformation, thereby ensuring optimal operational excellence in the business unit and potentially throughout the rest of the group’s operations.
De Beers project performance principal JJ van der Merwe explains that the marine mining division was selected for the trial as it is highly dependent on data and information and therefore has a deep appreciation for it.
He elaborates that the company is seeking to ensure interoperability between different machines, devices, sensors and people to ensure clarity of communication. There is also a need to provide transparency of information to ensure mistakes and success are made known to operators.
Digital transformation is necessary to bolster technical assistance in terms of systems’ abilities to support people in making decisions and solving problems, as well as for systems to assist people in completing tasks that would otherwise have been too difficult to do on their own.
He says that De Beers’ marine division is working towards adopting a “digital twin methodology”. This refers to the creation of a digital replica of physical assets, processes and systems that can be used to provide a deeper understanding of how businesses operate.
“The digital twin is in fact a reflection of the business in its entirety. It is not just the display of a sole asset.”
De Beers is also making use of the Google Design Sprint program, which entails a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping and testing ideas with final users and customers.
The program assists the company in solving problems quickly, which is necessary because mines are ‘notorious’ for taking an extremely long time to make decisions.
Van der Merwe says that, by the end of the year, he is confident the marine mining division will have its first data analytics system in place. He comments that, if the digital transformation process is implemented correctly, it has the potential to unlock efficiency enhancement for its mining vessels.
“This would equate to effectively putting in place a whole new revenue stream in terms of improving operational performance,” Van der Merwe enthuses.
He believes that marine mining is the new frontier for miners. He points out that the ocean accounts for 70% of the earth’s surface and, currently, only a small fraction of global output stems from marine mining activities, despite the fact that the ocean hosts diamond grades much higher than onshore deposits.
The ocean is estimated to contain an abundance of minerals, enough to sustain production of key minerals for about 500 more years, with a single site in the Pacific Ocean alone containing mineral resources valued at about $16-trillion.
Van der Merwe remarks that marine mining has the potential to be a “game changer” for the global mining industry, as many land-based mines are experiencing grade and productivity declines, while projects with richer deposits are often located in unstable countries where operators often face the risk of losing their operations, owing to populist political decisions and/or criminal elements.