Read any mining publication lately and you likely have stumbled onto an article or two that is talking about “the digital mine”. While there is no common definition yet on what the digital mine is among the publications, there is a general understanding that it will see the mining industry start to make use of the volumes of data that it produces but does not yet tap into for decision making. The idea of a digital twin of a mining operation is the next step up beyond analytics.
Why the interest in the digital mine? Much can be done in mining to boost productivity. Recently, in CIM, Palladium president and CEO Jim Gallagher was quoted as saying that most mines could boost productivity by 20 to 30%. Imagine if that translated to a few additional points to the bottom line? That could be billions of dollars in windfall for the industry.
The digital mine is of particular interest underground, where it can take hours for information to flow up to and back down to/from the surface. This means that problems that arise can shut down mining for hours and/or cause a lot of guess work to occur to keep machinery and crews operating. An efficient way of working it is not.
Let’s look at what is required from a digital mine to deliver productivity improvements in just one area: short interval control. Rapid response within shift to keep production on track by eliminating guesswork is achievable if the following steps are taken.
- Elimination of silos through integration of processes to allow data to flow easily between geology, engineering, scheduling and maintenance.
- Tracking of equipment and mining progress in real time.
- The utilization of real time key performance indicators to re-plan and re-optimize schedules.
- Transmission of updated work instructions in real time.
- Wireless underground communication network.
By making these changes, new capabilities that significantly boost productivity are unlocked:
- Faster updates to plans based on changing geology.
- Maintenance routines are directly connected to the planning process.
- Real time feedback on equipment performance.
- The latest geology can be fed into schedules which can be re-optimized on the fly.
- Workers get updated instructions sent directly to them.
To read more about how these capabilities can be deployed today, read “Adopting Manufacturing Philosophies to Improve Operational Stability”.