Technological advancements and breakthroughs are helping mining operations transform their traditional operations in a bid to foster a true digital culture. Against a backdrop of uncertain market conditions, having the digital fundamentals in place has become an imperative to maximising value.
While technology is undoubtedly driving productivity and efficiency improvements for miners, technological successes are not without challenges and hiccups along the way.
The industry is awash with great ideas that fail to materialise value in their execution phase.
A common roadblock is the unprecedented amount of data miners are dealing with.
According to Michael Baldwin, RPMGlobal’s Regional General Manager for Asia, Russia and Australia, the complexity and enormity of this data is becoming a double-edged sword.
It is a common scenario for mine planners to spend a large amount of time managing data into modern systems, meaning they often lose sight of the outputs.
“The more data we have is often seeing planners focusing on programming applications to visualise an outcome rather than use the tools to enhance the engineering decision making itself,” Baldwin told the audience at last year’s International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne.
“Much like learning how to program the autopilot but not understanding how to fly the plane.”
What this translates into reality is preventable issues such as cost blowouts and operational failures that are still being experienced. It is this conundrum that has provoked the industry to start thinking critically about what role technology plays in today’s unique, and increasingly challenging mining landscape.
Mine maintenance, for example, is an area that could benefit greatly from digital-driven initiatives. Typical maintenance costs at a site can be 30-50% of the operating budget. If we look to other industries such as aviation, the use of condition-based data is certainly helping make better decisions, especially with predictive-type solutions we have now.
However, there is something missing in this equation. With all this advanced data and many millions spent, why is the industry still grappling to create effective and achievable budgets? Why, with all this information at hand, do we still have trouble understanding the real cost impacts of decisions across the life of an asset?
According to Baldwin, there are ways out of this digital chaos. In order to extract full value from your digital evolution no matter the external market environment, it is imperative to have the following fundamentals in place.
- Focus on the problem you are trying to solve: Digital itself isn’t a panacea, but rather working backwards from a business problems, using the right technology to unpin the change and then planning the evolution to match the maturity uptake within your business. Like any project, it’s about solving a problem, not just being digital for digital sake.
- Seamless system integration: It is imperative that systems work together, regardless of vendor. Disconnected systems merely provide a bigger beast to feed. Systems that are integrated and connected provide better outcomes, deliver context, provide a better understanding of the problem and overall amplify decision-making capabilities within a business.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel: There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Learn from the industry’s past mistakes to improve the future for your operation as well as leverage existing technologies. Focus on innovation and harnessing the data to better your business.
- People are key to success: Mining companies should never underestimate the people factor. Just like most initiatives, people have a large impact on project success, or failure for that matter. The people component is the most critical path of making the digital equation work.
Digital can deliver true value for companies, even more so in these uncertain times. However, without the basics in place, the true value of digitisation efforts won’t materialise.
At RPMGlobal, we have developed a suite of innovative products that are just one part of the digital landscape that companies adopt to deliver more context to amplify their decision-making capabilities.