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Siemens is working on a digital architecture for mining companies which has the potential to set new benchmarks in productivity, reduce energy costs and increase mining intensity.
With a digital mine in mind, Siemens has invested in concrete applications for digital solutions on mines, and to improve value for customers, says Roland Ehrl, Global Head of the Siemens Minerals Solutions Business.
Ehrl believes the journey towards a fully digital mine is well and truly on its way, with digitalization incorporated into early mine planning and design through to construction and operations.
“We are currently developing the complete horizontal integration from planning and design of the plant to operation. We have also some developments for vertical integration from field-level to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. In time, entire seamless integration will be possible to run a mine optimally, “said Ehrl.
The pace towards a digital mine has quickened in line with the need to remain competitive in the global mining sector, especially in the light of declining ore grades, rising safety and security risks and tumbling commodity prices. Companies have to become leaner and more innovative, and digitalization is a key enabler.
Ehrl has highlighted the digital operations at Vale, the world’s third-biggest mining company, as a clear success story. At Vale, global leader in the iron ore business, 38 sites including the Moatize coal operation in Mozambique have been connected through a single manufacturing execution system (MES). Siemens has helped Vale to implement a single integrated system 6 to replace 17 production management systems previously used at its operations in Brazil. The solution is expected to generate savings of more than US$ 70 million by this year.
Called Vale Production Management-Mining (GPV-M) the Mining Manufacturing Execution System is a modular solution based on modern software architecture, in order to fulfill Vale’s specific needs. “The result is a far more integrated and efficient platform, where the scheduling, load and output of the different plants, as well as transportation, is linked,” says Ehrl.
Another example is the improvement of stockyard management and autonomous machine operation at one of world’s largest phosphate producers, the OCP Group in Morocco. This has helped to reduce operational costs and achieve a smoother and safer operation.
Ehrl explained that stacking of material in stockpiles is made far more efficient by tracking and GPS navigation.
“You know exactly where each stockpile is, and which quality is where on the stockpile. This makes it so much easier when an order is put through to the system. The scanners also know how high the stockpile is, and the system maintains a 3D mathematical model of the stockpile as a digital twin.”
“We are able to optimize the process through quality tracking. We are able to connect the system to the plant’s MES, allowing us to have over-arching control of the whole logistics chain,” said Ehrl.
Siemens also works with digital simulation tools to optimize conveyor belt systems.
Ehrl says development of the MES for Mining started in 2014, with Siemens’ comprehensive vision for the digital mine architecture taking shape in 2016.
“The first thing was to understand where the mining industry is, and to get a picture of the future. We had to understand the main challenges the industry faces. Right from the beginning it was important to come up with concrete applications for digital solutions and improve value for the customers.
He says it’s been a journey with the customer too. “We develop solutions according to specific needs and develop these along with the customer. It’s encouraging that customer understanding has increased a lot over the past few years.”
Ehrl was speaking to Mining Weekly soon after giving a presentation to the 2020 Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town on the ‘Journey to the Digital Mine’.