The complexity of the mining industry presents unique information management challenges. The volatility of prices, environmental concerns and stringent regulatory frameworks make mining processes extremely complex and difficult to manage.
Improving the flow of data within the organisation can provide the needed insights for improved decision making by management. Mining organisations can use data integration to optimize business processes, logistics, and supply chains, while ensuring the safety of miners and compliance to environmental and industry regulations.
Despite the need for integrated data for mining, companies in natural resource industries spend just 1% on information technology compared with 5-7% for most industries.
Here are some examples of why data integration can bring immediate value and generate a strong return on investment for mining organisations.
1. Improved productivity – Information technology (IT) integrated with operational technology (OT) can bring about a profound business transformation that reshapes how mining companies create and deliver value. In a world of driverless trucks and autonomous drills, having a single operating model for technology that helps to deliver real productivity improvement is crucial. When data integration is implemented to create a connected mine, there is 24/7, anytime, anywhere visibility of asset utilization with the ability to increase shift yields by providing supervisors with analytics-enhanced, real-time data from in-pit equipment.
2. Extended equipment life – The strains and stresses placed upon mining equipment by rocks of unpredictable size and hardness result in frequent breakdowns. Having a fully integrated network with smart sensors, enables monitoring every aspect of an operation for greater productivity and safety. This includes detecting wear and tear on vital pieces of equipment, as well as projecting when repairs or maintenance is required. As a result, expensive equipment can last longer and companies can avoid expensive and inconvenient downtime due to equipment failures.
3. Remote management – Mining sites are often located in some of the most remote locations. The ever-growing number of connectivity, sensors and intelligent devices creates a vast range of ways to monitor and control assets, equipment and materials from a distance. For instance, a monitoring application can locate missing equipment, distribute vehicle usage across the entire fleet and plan for maintenance activities. This can have a sizable impact on capital expenditures, as well as overall cost savings and operational efficiencies.
4. Planning for weather conditions – Harsh weather can have detrimental effects on mining operations. While rain and wind cannot be controlled, having data integrations to receive data from remote weather stations can go a long way in providing the information needed for storm detection, flood and lightning risk management and scheduling blasts. Sensors can be used to measure environmental conditions, such as temperature, rainfall, wind speed/direction, humidity, barometric pressure, and solar radiation. Analysts can use this information to know when to keep mining operations running or to shut them down to protect people and equipment.
5. Safety for a mobile workforce – Ensuring the safety and welfare of employees, especially at high-risk sites, is a constant concern for many mining companies. Contractors, geologists and managers often travel on unpaved and unsafe roads for exploration work. In order to reduce the number of accidents and increase security of traveling, companies can track vehicle speeds, whether employees are traveling during prohibited times (such as after dark) and whether they are moving through high-risk areas. An emergency button can also be used to notify dispatchers of an emergency, road block or vehicle malfunction.
6. Improved compliance – South Africa’s latest Mining Charter raises the minimum threshold for black ownership to 30 percent, requires that 70 per cent of goods be made in South Africa and procured from black-owned companies, and mandates that 88 percent of junior management be black. Well-managed data about procurement, personnel, and products including their point of origin is necessary to ensure that companies can document compliance. Having the systems well integrated also gives companies the flexibility to react quickly to future changes in regulations.
Data integration can contribute to increased safety, throughput and lower costs. Investing in middleware to support the free flow of information between operational systems and IT systems can provide a flexible infrastructure for optimized operations and continued growth. Analytics and other algorithmic tools can analyse huge amounts of data and predict patterns to enable better decision making. The future of the mining industry is brighter when information is leveraged to introduce higher levels of efficiency, compliance and safety.
By Kerry Hope, Business Development Manager, Magic Software South Africa