Engineering & Mining Journal

DEC 2018

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90 E&MJ • DECEMBER 2018 OPERATING STRATEGIES Digital twins are among the newest mem- bers of mining's extended family, part of an industry-wide adoption process aimed at maximizing the value of its big-data collection efforts and improving the per- formance of physical assets. The digital twin concept isn't new. It was developed years ago by the Nation- al Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to mirror systems on board re- mote spacecraft for monitoring and main- tenance purposes. It gained traction in the manufacturing sector and has grown in importance, becoming an integral ele- ment in the "Industry 4.0" blueprint en- visioned for manufacturing and process industries where it joins artifi cial intel- ligence, machine learning and real-time data as foundation technologies for future business optimization. In a nutshell, In- dustry 4.0 seeks to leverage automation and data exchange capabilities in devel- opment of "smart plants." But, for min- ing, the implications and potential bene- fi ts extend beyond the conventional plant site, reaching upstream into the mine and downstream to ports and terminals. Riding on the back of astonishingly rapid advances in IT (Information Tech- nology) and OT (Operational Technology) capabilities, digital twin solutions are now being offered as an effective technique for providing a complete digital picture of a product from design to the end of its life cycle. Over the past few years, an in- creasing number of mineral producers see the concept as a promising tool for opti- mizing mine to mill operations — and are using it in a variety of ways. For example, Tony O'Neill, technical director for Anglo American, described how the company is applying the concept in a recent interview with Bloomberg: "We're already starting to use digital twins to optimize our mining fl eet. We use them to reduce diesel consumption on our trucks and we are also putting digital twins across pipelines, smelters and refi neries. Today, we use analytics for real-time drilling analysis, hyper-spectral core imaging, and geological modeling software using 3D and virtual-reality tech- nology to generate and interpret predic- tive data models. "Our latest work uses customized learning algorithms to predict control pa- rameters required by our plants. Another important application is condition mon- itoring and predictive maintenance. The logical end-point is a fully-integrated, systematized, and self-learning opera- tion that will help remove the uncertainty and huge variability that characterizes mining today." Asked how the company would go about implementing a digital twin to make a mining process more effi cient, O'Neill explained, "A machine, whether it's a pipeline, a truck or a smelter, has a theoretical way of behaving and as soon as you can start to measure the behavior as variants, then we can intervene. "We will use our digital twin to learn from the physical machine and then to actually change its behavior [from simu- lating how it acts in a virtual sense]. By using a digital twin, we can make our pro- cesses more effective and effi cient. "We've used digital twins in Chile at the Los Bronces mining site, where we implemented them into the haulage fl eet to track the actual performance," he con- tinued. "We've got a 500-kilometer pipe- line in Brazil and we've put a digital twin onto that." In addition, O'Neill also mentioned that "Where people have gone digital, they've generally seen around a 30% im- provement in their business — made up of approzimately 15% in productivity and 15% in cost savings." Miners interested in adopting the digi- tal twin concept need to consider the cost versus benefi ts tradeoffs carefully. As an executive for South African coal miner Exxaro Resources recently noted, not all mines are top candidates for digital twin implementation. Exxaro broke ground on its Belfast Im- plementation Project (BIP) at the begin- ning of July. Among the mine's major fea- tures is a two-stage, 500-tons-per-hour Miners Turn to Digital Twins for Asset Performance Gains Anglo American has implemented digital twin projects in applications as diverse as the haulage fl eet at its Los Bronces mine, shown here, and on a 500-km-long pipeline it operates in Brazil. (Photo: Anglo American plc)

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