In a recent meeting with an underground technology specialist here in Perth, I posed a simple question. It was an odd juncture in the conversation as I could see the cogs really turning when it was posed…
“Great, I understand that we collect this data from the mining face but who fundamentally benefits from it? Is it the shift boss and the mining contractor?
Or is it the mine engineers who dictate to the contractor, or is it someone else in the mix?
Who has the authority to action and adjust the schedule on the fly if they have the correct data in front of them?”
I didn’t realise how divisive this question would be and the dialog that followed was interesting for me to absorb. Mainly that this had not been fully assessed, rather the specialist’s remit was to collect and transfer the data, so that someone within the mine could use it downstream.
Whilst there is some validity to this, I found it hard to digest. I would like to think that the end user and value that such data could bring, would be the driving force behind any such digitalisation of mining workflows.
This inspired a train of thought about data collection and the general digitalisation of mining projects – what are the key value adding benefits and who are the people that can have input within the mining cycle? I will aim to break down the cycle and make comments on each step of the chain of command:
The raw data is harvested from the mining fronts by either operators entering the data as they go, or via machines automatically updating the metrics they have completed during the shift. This digital data is the foundation on which quick and decisive decision making can be made. There are multiple players in this market, for tablet based, operator friendly data collection apps and networks to support their data transfer.
This data is often collected in remote locations, beyond lines of easy comms with a central database. Systems for leapfrogging data via wireless nodes are now available and allow for data to be sent back to a central database in near real time. Light vehicles (4×4 utilities) which travel and interface with machines during the day (fitters, shift bosses, technical services team) can all retrieve data during the shift and then seamlessly transfer it to a cloud or server hub.
Data Validation – Mine Control:
Within my time in the mining industry a mine control or dispatch officer, has become a more noticeable addition to a mining team. They wear many hats but one of the major tasks they assist with is data management and validation. Checking, cross referencing and ultimately verifying data as correct. This can then be utilised by others within the team… this is where things can start to get interesting…!
Data End User: Mining Contractor – Mine shift boss:
The shift boss is in control of the machines and miners allocated to them by the mining contractor at the shift’s commencement. They can sometimes, at larger mine, be split into development, production, and projects. Data once validated by mine control could be fed back to them at their location within the mine. This could for example allow for better visibility of tasks that are still outstanding for the shift and resources could be allocated accordingly.
Whilst I think data in a shift bosses’ hands can be revolutionary for shift planning and resource allocation, I feel the real short interval control decisions need to come from someone with a broader scope beyond the minutia of the underground cycle.
Data End User: Mining Contractor – Mine foreman:
Higher up the food chain and slightly removed from the front-line action is the mine foreman. Data in their hand could be cross referenced against the proposed daily targets they have agreed with the mine engineers. Decisions could cascade down via their shift bosses to influence change during a shift. They have a better understanding of the metrics required and the pressures often being applied for monthly/quarterly targets than those running the shift.
Data End User: Mining Contractor – Project engineer/Maintenance/Head Office:
Data collected could deliver many findings beyond the initial project requirements. Mining contractors, with a wide range of specialist mine machinery and operators, could now view data for metrics across all their operations with the click of a button.
This inter-visibility could highlight requirements for training, different approaches in execution and inform new staffing/fleet requirements to achieve their clients’ requirements. The value of this data, at a corporate level for a contractor, really has near limitless benefits if tangible analysis and actions are taken.
Data End User: Mine Owner – Tech Services Team
The mining tech services team, often delivered by the mine owner themselves, can make informed intra shift decisions with the mining operators in mind. This could be across a wide range of areas within the mining cycle to deliver efficiencies and improved overall metrics through a shift.
The role of the mine controller, or “data custodian” becomes of more importance and in the future a Senior Mining engineer and their team, could utilise this data to great effect. Rather than waiting for data to be harvested through the shift, a periodic 3 hourly break out session could take place. This would keep the engineering team not only engaged during the shift with events happening below their feet but also allowing for discussions and decisions to be collectively made. Whilst this might not suit all mining operations, rapid development, high activity mines could benefit from this constant monitoring and adjustment.
Data End User: Mine Owner – Head Office/Corporate
The transparency of performance across multiple facets of the mining cycle allows head office increased visibility of their contract delivery. This could allow for improved accountability, negotiation of contracts and ultimately help decrease their cost base.
In a similar fashion to Mining Contractors this could offer project by project analysis, which could shine a light on operational excellence across the business. Driving improvements and change within their wider business.
Data is now being collected and collated more than ever in industrial settings and mining is no different. Interconnectivity, advanced networks, and accessibility to refined data capture apps makes this easier than ever. However, why this data is collated and ultimately who it is used by to add value still feels like it is being felt out by the underground mining industry.
Org charts and relationships between mining owners and their contractors may need to be reassessed and adjusted for the new digital mine to really deliver value beyond reducing daily paperwork. With potentially significant internal or external resources used to not only set up data analytics channels but also to maintain them.
This should open new avenues within the sector for pure database and/or analytics roles that support the mining team. With savvy current mining personnel potentially exploring data analytics and software development further education to assist their employers in bridging the gap to a new digitised future.
I LOVE EXPLORING, CONSIDERING AND DISCUSSING WHERE THE MINING SECTOR COULD BE HEADING – DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS?
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