How to become more productive in mining
Underground mining is a tough business, and there is no lack of challenges. Grades are decreasing, and mines are getting deeper and deeper. Mining automation is one of the cures that will drive productivity and safety in the right direction. However, it is not the only remedy. Digitalization and Information Management is equally a very concrete and important tool for increased productivity and safety. It is also an enabler for automation and sustainability in mining.
This article highlights how modern information technology creates value in underground mining and describes a proposed path to start.
Quite often, you can read about “Mine of the Future” or similar statements. However, what is usually promoted is not any futuristic vision statement. Instead, it is commercially available with well-proven technologies.
There is no excuse for not embracing new technology in mining. Automation, situational awareness, shift planning, traffic awareness, etc., the opportunities are several.
There are now so many real possibilities to stop doing the wrong things and get rid of time-thieves, that will dramatically affect your productivity. The statement “open the lid” has never been more accurate, and there is no lack of testimonials about it either. Still, some mines hesitate about taking on available solutions.
How to get started
There are too many discussions around the investment costs regarding digitalization. It may be due to a lack of experience in the industry about the value of software and technology. The purchasing departments are not used to buy “wiz”-things that sometimes (quite rarely) cost as much as a mining machine. They do not fully understand that modern technology can create so much more value than the investment cost.
New technologies can help mines get more out of their costly fleet, and the pay-back period can be so short if handled correctly. But it is not only about pay-back times, but it is also about staying competitive in the next downturn. So, how do you start then?
Well, for a start, you will need a modern, standardized, high-performance communication network in the majority of your underground mine. If you are thinking of asking the question “What is the business case of this” then you are asking the wrong questions. You will need modern internet in your mine for several reasons since it is the foundation for your success.
Dr. Joe Cronin once told an exciting story about companies that would question internet availability in underground mines. They were afraid that the miners would misuse the internet access instead of working. They have all modern information technology gadgets and tools at their head offices, but where the revenue is generated, it should still be medieval. Can you see the problem?
Modern technology needs modern communication everywhere and maybe even equally important; if you want the younger generations to work in the mining industry, they demand modern tools.
Use your current infrastructure
Just as communication is a foundation, positioning services are almost as important. If you choose wisely, you can re-use your communication network for obtaining locations of tracked assets to a “good-enough” accuracy. You will avoid having to invest in another technology on top of the communication layer. To have super-accurate technology everywhere would be a waste of money. You might have some varying requirements of the needed accuracy, but that is ok. You should be able to use the appropriate positioning technologies where it serves a purpose.
Figure 1 –The foundation for a productive mine
On this foundation, you can now start getting some business values out of this investment. A good start is implementing a Situational Awareness solution, meaning a 3D-visualization of the mine where people’s location, vehicles, machines, and items are shown in near real-time. It is a significant leap in starting to get more productive. With this in a control room, operators can always be on top of the operations. They can fight the usual time-thieves like aiding people to find their machines at the beginning of a shift, highlighting things that diverts from the plan.
Save the shift in real-time
Another good piece of advice is to go from manual paper/whiteboard-based shift planning to a modern digital shift planner. It allows you to ease the planning process but, even more critical, to dispatch work orders out to the operators in all mining machines and then being able to monitor the progress via (ideally) online reporting. When things diverge from the plan, you can now react promptly, use the situational awareness system to gather more information, and re-plan the shift. With tools like this, you can save the shift when things happen outside the plan.
With Situational Awareness, more opportunities to increase productivity and lower operational costs unveil when adding components like Event Automation. Event Automation will unleash more values and options such as Ventilation on Demand and similar. Additionally, based on Situational Awareness, you can increase safety by adding solutions like Emergency Support.
Figure 2 – Take advantage of the investment in comms technology
Engage your people in the process
One important thing that can’t be emphasized enough is the change management part. When introducing new technology, it is so easy to forget about involving people in the process. With this done correctly, the earnings from the investment will appear much faster. Local champions are so essential but also to visualize the value of this new technology to everyone.
Therefore, we at Mobilaris have “for everyone” as one of our vision statements. Just for a second, reflect on the value that Situational Awareness gives people in a control room. Now imagine the effect when everybody has this information in their pockets, in their phones or tablets. With product s like Mobilaris Onboard and Pocketmine, people will get empowered, and there is no excuse for not knowing.
The Mobilaris Onboard also plays another important and unique role. It gives anyone the ability to safely drive and navigate in the mine, reducing wear-and-tear of machines and increases the traffic (ore) flow in the mine with drives productivity further. The effect we have seen in installations all over the world is fantastic.
Additionally, with a product like the Mobilaris Operator Client, we allow operators to enter their progress and status reporting digitally, enabling control room operators to re-plan when a problem occurs.
Figure 3 – Information for everyone
When this is all in place, you have come far. You will have seen substantial productivity increases, a more empowered workforce, and maybe most important, your mine is safer in many aspects.
Get clever – act now!
.Now it is time to start taking advantage of all information that is gathered. What are the current cycle times of our haulage trucks? What are our most common reasons for delays? The amount of available data is enormous, and from this, you can construct the dashboards you need. Therefore, we at Mobilaris call this – Tactical Analytics.
It is never too late to start your journey into a more productive and safer mine. Contact us, and we will lead your way.
Hans Wahlquist, VP Strategic Product Management & Business Development at Mobilaris Mining & Civil Engineering
+46 70 534 88 62