At the beginning of July I had the honour of speaking at the Smart Manufacturing conference at Innoprom 2017, an annual Russian trade fair focused on the priorities driving world industry and technology – and especially on the priorities that support Russia’s program of industrial and manufacturing development.
The event was held in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Ekaterinburg is Russia’s fourth largest city and a centre for mining known for its rich mineral wealth. Such is the importance of the area and its contribution to the Russian economy that Russian President Putin opened the event on his way back from the G20 summit in Hamburg. The panels I spoke on and the speech I gave to the strategic council may not have been as well attended or met with as much enthusiasm as Mr. Putin’s opening remarks, but there was a genuine buzz at the event and participation was high.
At first glance, and not being from the mining industry, I wondered why all the excitement around digitization in mining. After all, humans have been digging for metal ore, coal and precious metals for thousands of years. What’s changed?
Well, if we dig into the matter (sorry couldn’t resist), digitization is having a huge impact on mining. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is changing the entire landscape. Why? Because it’s an industry with large, expensive assets and highly complicated logistics that run from the mine itself all the way to the ports from which the product is shipped all over the world. Mining operations consume huge amounts of energy and have a need for ever-improving safety. So, in effect, it is an industry that actually is a perfect fit for today’s digital technology.
Just a few examples: Mining haul trucks, the real life multi-story size versions of the toy dump trucks we had as kids, can have hundreds of sensors on board. And just about every process in a mine uses some kind of large, expensive, moving or rotating equipment. This is a sweet spot for Asset Performance – the ability of IIoT to monitor equipment health, provide early warning diagnostics of issues, and even schedule repairs and order spare parts before an operator even realises there is a problem. Easy to see how this would result in improved asset availability, reduced production losses, minimised logistics issues and improved safety.
At the conference, virtual reality and augmented reality technology were also on prominent display. This makes perfect sense when you consider the geography of mining operations and how they are spread over an enormous amount of acreage. Having a maintenance person leave the field and head back to a central depot every time he needs a maintenance manual, diagnostic support or to order a spare part is extremely inefficient.
Remember the study I quoted previously by Cisco that spoke about “wrench time?” They stated a typical oil field maintenance worker is only fixing something about 25% of his time – the other 75% is wasted traveling to and from a site searching for manuals, etc. etc. Mining operations would face the same issues and the benefits of the “augmented operator” are again easy to see.
From these simple examples, we can move to the overall “pit to port” operation. These can be huge endeavours with decades long supply chain planning. From a data perspective it’s even bigger – our mining experts tell me full pit to port operations yield well over a terabyte of data per minute! What can you do with all that data? Where do you start?
Well, this is the sweet spot for big data, cloud analytics and AI. Fully integrated operational software that provides decision-making support for planning and logistics can have a huge impact on the overall operation. As just one example we’ve work on, Sam Walsh, the head of Rio Tinto, has publicly stated that the first year they employed big data, Rio Tinto squeezed $80 million dollars from its cash flow. Big data, big rewards!
To me this a great example of one of the oldest industries in the world embracing some of the newest technologies. A digital world where, as we see it here at Schneider Electric, Life is One for Everyone at Every Moment!