Smart Technology in Mining

Smart Technology in Mining

Smart Technology in Mining proved a hot topic on a chilly Perth morning, with nearly 300 people attending the first of the WA Mining Club ECU Education Series breakfasts for 2018.

Our panel of BHP’s David Ruddell, Roy Hill’s Barry Fitzgerald, RTC’s Rob Derries and Schneider’s Matthew Andrews, captivated the crowd with a wide ranging and insightful discussion around the transformation of the mining industry and what’s on the horizon. With collaboration a strong theme throughout the session.   Here’s a snap shot.

Fresh off the back of attending the Autmining2018 Congress in Chile, RCT’s Rob Derries advised Australia continues to lead the uptake of technology in the mining sector globally.   But we need to watch our backs with the Scandinavian and South American countries proving fast adopters.

The game changers

BHP’s David Ruddell, VP Planning and Technical Minerals Australia, says the ‘breakthrough technologies’ are creating the next industry step-change, fundamentally changing mining processes and the way we work.

“The evolution and innovation that we are seeing applied in mines has been fantastic to witness,” said David.

“This is not technology for technologies sake”, safety improvements and productivity gains continue to be key drivers for the adoption of technology across the mining industry.

BHP is currently seeing significant gains in the geoscience space from these ‘breakthroughs’ including:

  • A downhole neutron logging tool, which characterises orebodies in real time at the drill site,
  • The leveraging of 3D Seismic, traditionally used by the petroleum industry, applied to BHP’s coal business.

“The benefit is the ability to see structure and definition in a photograph,” said David.

He says to achieve the equivalent with traditional methods would require drilling thousands of holes.

Shifting our thinking

Roy Hill is one of the few Australian mines with the opportunity to imagine the future and embed a range of technology to optimise delivery across the supply chain.

Roy Hill Chief Executive Officer Barry Fitzgerald says one of the key learnings for others is “don’t get trapped by the past”. He says the most significant challenge was establishing a culture of innovation and a new business paradigm in which to drive cultural change.

His advice, have an open mind, take the best of past, but modify the platforms and the paradigms to enable ‘future-proofing’ of both business and people.

“We are facing huge change in technology and it is absolutely essential that we all challenge our perceptions about the future,” said Barry.

“As an industry, yes we need to embrace technology and future proof ourselves, but we have a responsibility to future proof our employees as well.”

He says achieving this requires a significant shift in thinking and the development of new business structures that foster internal and external collaboration.

For Roy Hill this has resulted in collaboration established as a fundamental business driver.

Challenges and Solutions

With automation now mainstream technology, for the large majority, the integration of old and new technology and systems is a key challenge. The solution is collaboration.

Known as ‘Interoperability’ or the enabling of systems to work together, is proving “a real headache for everyone,” says RCT’s Custom Manager Rob Derries.

“The technology we are implementing is only as good as the infrastructure supporting it,” he said.

“We can install our (automation) technology on an existing communication system, but if that network is not robust enough or flaky it will effect the performance of our system.

“A lot of the operators have realised that they need to invest in that infrastructure and are looking at alternatives like LTE (communication systems) and these have been trialled and rolled out on a number of sites.”

Rob says collaboration across the METS sector is already happening, taking a ‘best of breed’ approach to providing better outcomes for operators.

Future proofing the systems is the big challenge, and the panel agree the solution once again is collaboration internally and externally across the supply chain.

Matthew Andrews VP Sales Asia Pacific at Schneider-Electric Process Automation says predictive analytics and digitisation are another challenge.

“Everyone seems to allocate a budget, but they don’t know what they want,”

“You have to begin with the end in mind and understand what it is you want to achieve.”

Matthew gives us a sense that working smarter not harder is the way forward, leveraging the advances made by those leading the charge – aerospace, manufacturing and the automotive industry – and tapping into like industries.

“One of things that oil and gas does really well is capital efficiency.”

He says oil and gas projects are lean with a focus on using standardised or modular systems, leveraging universal technology that is software configurable and an overall contractor reducing the risk of the project.

What’s next?

David – There is a huge potential for accelerated integration.

Barry – It is all about culture and people and international collaboration.

Rob – The integration of automation and AI technologies.

Matthew – The integration of safety and cyber security.