Addressing the mining industry’s biggest data challenges through digitalization 

In the modern mining industry, data is a problem and a solution. While data is critical to optimizing and streamlining operations, the complexity of accessing and managing it can present significant obstacles to progress. 

Meaningful and wide-ranging data plays a pivotal role in connecting workforces, enhancing health and safety, and leveraging applications, for example, to achieve energy management targets. The challenge is that, without a unified and cross-functional approach to data through digitalization, companies struggle to connect disparate assets, data sources and legacy equipment from different suppliers, as well as facing the challenge of working with multiple interfaces. The inability to address this is a major barrier to advances in planning, asset performance management, sustainability and other areas.  

 Assessing data risks 

Without a cohesive stance on connecting data through digitalization, poorly managed data can become a roadblock to impactful change management: a key concern in an industry under pressure to keep evolving. This isn’t the only threat created when companies use data without an overarching strategy. Increased connectivity through operational technology alongside the sharp rise in workers using remote connections is creating significant concerns among mining companies about the cyber security risks that could be created by their own data.

Sanjit Shewale, Global Business Line Manager, Digital, ABB Process Industries

While too much data is one challenge for mining companies, a lack of data is another. Companies may invest in a complex new system but only realize at the implementation stage that they need specific data to make it effective and lack any way of locating it. Progress in modeling and implementing solutions can also be stalled by a lack of historical data, with companies then having to wait for months before they can start collecting it.

Taking a unified approach 

While the challenges associated with data are undeniably wide-ranging, a strategic approach to digitalization can be the step change that mining companies need to overcome them. By applying an integrated solution to manage data, businesses can remove the guesswork from benchmarking and standardizing their operations. Small but smart steps have the potential to yield critical advantages. This can support changes such as enabling active communication between mining operations or allowing companies to harness data in mining vehicles through the use of sensors to help predict and prevent potential vehicle failure – an advantage both for operational management and for safety. Meaningful digitalization in this context involves fully understanding assets and associated data, whether it’s trucks or gearless mill drives. 

By taking a unified approach through digitalization, mining companies can map out the flow of their data more comprehensively and gain a breadth of visibility they probably haven’t achieved before. In our work with companies, we spend time with different departments and connect all the data that flows between them. This process often proves surprising to the client in terms of what it yields, for example, the insight that different departments lack oversight of the type of data used by each other. A shift in organizational mindset and culture can drive success in digitalizing data and, in turn, can continue to evolve through the insights gained. 

 Optimizing Granny Smith 

By applying a more cohesive strategy to data through digitalization, mining companies can drive business progress more consistently, as shown in our work with the Granny Smith Gold Mine for the global gold miner, Gold Fields. Implementing and integrating a digital fleet management system to support the latest Industry 4.0 interoperability standards has enabled more efficient and profitable extraction of gold from a mine that has been in operation in Australia since 2005. Applying ABB’s digital fleet management system, underpinned by the ABB Ability Operations Management System has provided an unprecedented
level of visibility and insight. It has also helped to support a cleaner environment,
as equipment and activities are organized into a seamless workflow.  

Big data analytics and high speed communication technology illustration. Data flow, data stream, digital information telecommunication and internet concept. Quantum computer qubits. Futuristic.

Sensors applied to machinery at Granny Smith constantly monitor and transmit the location and operational status of critical equipment and personnel. Employees can now receive documents and work orders via computer tablets, as well as being able to easily report on the completion of tasks or interruptions to the schedule. This real-time data enables their operations and fleet management systems to maximize the utilization of equipment and orchestrate the workforce to progress more seamlessly from task to task, adapting to events as they occur. Once embedded in mine procedures, this fully interoperable system will allow Gold Fields to manage operations at Granny Smith in real-time from a centralized control room. 

 Harnessing data’s potential 

As the example of the Granny Smith Gold Mine demonstrates, achieving measurable progress in challenging and complex environments is about much more than just accessing data. The key is the way in which that data is integrated and managed. An effective, real-world-driven approach to digitalization empowers companies to address the many challenges presented by data, transforming it from a challenge into an asset.  

 For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor. 

Sanjit Shewale
Sanjit Shewale is Global Business Line Manager, Digital, ABB Process Industries. ABB’s Process Automation business automates, electrifies and digitalizes industrial operations that address a wide range of essential needs – from supplying energy, water and materials, to producing goods and transporting them to market. With its ~20,000 employees, leading technology and service expertise, ABB Process Automation helps customers in process, hybrid and maritime industries improve performance and safety of operations, enabling a more sustainable and resource-efficient future.