Engineering & Mining Journal

NOV 2017

Engineering and Mining Journal - Whether the market is copper, gold, nickel, iron ore, lead/zinc, PGM, diamonds or other commodities, E&MJ takes the lead in projecting trends, following development and reporting on the most efficient operating pr

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DATA NETWORKS 44 E&MJ • NOVEMBER 2017 www.e-mj.com The speed, volume, quality, and nature of information collected and distributed over mine data networks is evolving at a rate that more closely resembles speed- of-light rather than speed-of-business — which in itself is a fast-lane traveler on the technological highway. At one end of the data spectrum, it's now routine for a ma- jor mining operation to receive as much as five terabytes of equipment health and performance data daily from each of its large mining trucks. At the other end, it's also technically possible for mine man- agement to quickly determine the physi- cal status of workers in remote or extreme environments from real-time sweat-analy- sis data collected by a wearable sensor. Mining's march to a digital future be- gan decades ago as a leisurely stroll down the networking path, watching with wary interest as other core industries such as telecom, chemicals, oil and gas, and even agriculture adopted emerging technology at a much faster pace. Although digital data generation and management have been used to some degree in various min- ing applications for decades, it wasn't long ago that operational information was com- monly gathered for review and analysis by painstakingly transcribing it to PC spread- sheets from clipboard forms and other pa- per-based sources — or in the next phase of digital evolution, stored on memory cards that had to be physically retrieved from the field and, yes, plugged into PCs for spreadsheet entry and analysis. That has changed. As a recent report by EY (formerly Ernst & Young)* pointed out, the mining sector has embraced the introduction of mainframe and personal computing, processing plant control sys- tems, computer-assisted dispatch, Global Positioning Systems, mobile broadband, affordable and available sensors and data storage, and cloud computing, to name just a few. And mining robots are now on the horizon — electromechanical workers that will subsist entirely on a diet of bits, bytes and binary code. Mining has claimed special circum- stances for its you-first approach, citing cultural differences, the difficulty of deal- ing with data from remote locations and the uniqueness of each operation — and this has resulted in what the EY report called a "digital disconnect" regarding the indus- try's technology uptake rate compared with other industrial sectors. This disconnect is defined as the gap between the potential from digital transformation and the poor track record of successful implementations. It exists, the report stated, not because of a lack of engagement from the sector, but because of a range of practical issues that continue to challenge the industry. These issues have been, and remain, formidable (see sidebar), but the world's leading mineral producers have largely stopped using them as excuses for tech- nological tardiness. Companies such as Barrick Gold, Rio Tinto and Vale, for ex- ample, have determined that just because they excel at their job of finding and ex- tracting value from the Earth, they're still not immune from the fate of famous but now-extinct brands such as Kodak, Enron or any number of former airlines that also were once considered to be sector leaders. These mining majors, along with a num- ber of intermediate producers, have com- mitted their future to the digital realm, adopting new thought and action patterns and applying both established and emerg- ing technological tools to ensure that the data needed to conduct their business in an efficient manner is available quickly, widely and in usable form. The industry is reaching out to other industrial sectors for assistance. For ex- ample, Atlas Copco just signed a letter of intent with the defense and security com- pany Saab and its subsidiary, the tech- nology consultancy Combitech. The col- laboration, said Atlas Copco, goes "hand in hand" with its aggressive investment in secure digitalized mining operations. The effort will draw on Atlas Copco's knowl- edge of the mining industry, as well as Combitech's experience from digitaliza- tion of aeronautics, defense and telecom- munications operations. The new collaboration includes digi- talization efforts related to autonomous mining control tower, cyber security and ecosystem solutions. The collaboration will build upon Saab's technical platforms and on the working methods and experience that Combitech gained in the course of digitalizing the Gripen E fighter aircraft — an effort that reportedly cut development time in half while radically reducing costs. Earlier this year, Atlas Copco also ac- quired a stake in Mobilaris MCE, a busi - Bit Players The pace of digital technology implementation and innovation is quickening throughout the industry. Here's a quick scan of what leading producers, suppliers and service providers are doing. By Russell A. Carter, Contributing Editor * The Digital Disconnect: Problem or Pathway? Ernst & Young Global Ltd., 2017. Existing 'legacy' mine data networks were typically designed to facilitate better communications across a specific site. The latest generation of networks are geared toward handling the increasing volume of noncommunications data generated by new digital assets and technologies.

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