Enterprise Transformation Partners unlocking interoperability gold

‘The right information in the right place at the right time is ever more critical to industry mission’

If Western Australia’s Pilbara iron ore mines have become global flagbearers for heavy vehicle autonomy and Mining 4.0, it is one of the state’s major gold mines that is perhaps best signposting a path to a future where people can maximise gains from technology that most of the rest of the industry can follow.

The high level of transparency is crucial for wise industry heads such as John Kirkman, founding partner of Perth-based Enterprise Transformation Partners (ETP), which has worked with gold major Gold Fields for several years on its Mining 4.0 programs at Granny Smith and other operations in WA.

Granny Smith, near Laverton, has been operated by Gold Fields for about a decade, having commenced production back in 1989.

It was held up last year as a significant industry case study: “A modern digitalised mine … that is more productive and sustainable”, said a senior company manager.

Interoperable digital systems were key to that outcome, the company and its partners said.

If the mining industry is going to achieve well-publicised decarbonisation, safety and productivity goals, in the face of increasing cost and societal pressures, its ability to broadly leverage Industrial 4.0 (i4.0) technologies is going to be vital to accelerating the rate of progress.

Fundamental digital building blocks that enable many in the industry to push the accelerator are still being assembled, and part of that is due to a lack of historical cohesion (is one way to describe it) in the development of digital products and systems.

Mining references to black boxes and blacker arts are more common than they should be.

However, Gold Fields and its technology partners now talk about “lifting the lid on an opaque realm and achieving transparency” at Granny Smith. Underpinned by digital interoperability, the site’s unique, connected operating system gives planning and execution teams a “clear vision of any roadblocks or bottlenecks in their operations” that can stymie real optimisation.

Even at this early stage, Gold Fields’ projections on the impact of a “fully operational system” at the circa-285,000-ounces-a-year Granny Smith mine are eye opening: 5-10% productivity gains and 25% cost savings.

Time taken to schedule programs of work is also expected to be cut by 25%, freeing highly skilled personnel of rescheduling tasks.

The ETP-run Energy & Resources Digital interoperability (ERDi) Test Lab in Perth, set up four years ago as part of the Australian Government’s Industry 4.0 Testlabs for Australia initiative, has been central to the work done by Gold Fields and partners such as industrial systems giant ABB.

An ERDi-based digital twin of the Granny Smith system facilitated extensive testing and optimisation.

Kirkman says the lab has also been used to help design and implement I4.0 interoperable solutions for other openpit and underground mines in Australia and offshore, and to enable mining software vendors to modify products to support I4.0 standards.

“What do we do at the test lab is pretty simple really,” Kirkman says.

John Kirkman, third from left, welcomes Petronas and Yokogawa visitors to the ERDi lab

“Where there are still gaps in the standards we’ll conduct research and development with miners and technology companies to close those gaps. We’ll run proof of concepts as part of that process.

“We also showcase technology that does support standards.

“You can actually come down to the lab – it’s open to anyone – and see a demonstration of a number of software packages from different vendors working together.

“We do technology conformance testings so buyers can understand whether certain software or hardware supports standards.”

Kirkman says Gold Fields is not alone in its pursuit of an “optimum operating model”.

What are the core tenets of such a model?

“Invariably it comes back to having the right material at the right place and time, at lowest cost, achieved safely and, increasingly, with the lowest carbon footprint,” Kirkman says.

“Having the right information in the right place at the right time is going to be ever more critical to this mission.

“We are not hearing leaders talk about a vision for less information, delivered and analysed slowly, involving more manual effort.

“Information at the right time always means as soon as any new information is available.

“An operating model built on the free flow of information, in real-time, allows intelligence on all key mine events to be used to inform decisions that will result in the right material being in the right place at the right time.”

Keys to executing those decisions are planning, scheduling and fleet management systems. Then there are a host of software products used to support core business processes that are essential to operating mines efficiently and safely. They include geology modelling, mine planning, drill and blast, fleet management, materials tracking and reconciliation, personnel and asset tracking, laboratory information management, process control, data management and reporting, dashboards and analytics.

“The list of systems goes on,” Kirkman says.

“Remarkably, these systems haven’t been designed to share and exchange information in a standard way.

“Even though each of the processes need information from at least one other – and generally more than one – to perform optimally, the industry lacks standards to enable this to occur in a uniform, predictable way.”

Standards and integration are also the key to process automation.

Instead, says Kirkman, manual manipulation of data formatting is the standard industry MO when it comes to connecting data and systems.

“The performance requirements of a software package that exchanges and processes granular events with rich information in real-time, when compared to a software package designed for periodical manual entry, are like comparing chalk and cheese,” he says.

“There’s a whole bunch of opportunity missed between cadence-based exchange of information and automated information exchange.

“We organise ourselves a lot in mining to hand over information based on a certain time of the week or day.

“That’s the first time that other processing systems understand that data. So the opportunity to react when data actually exists somewhere else in the business earlier is lost.

“When we share data from one complex software system to another, because we’re generally relying on manual re-entry, we will simplify and dumb it down. That basically means that the receiving system has no chance to take in extra information and use that to run automated workflows around decision support and that type of thing.

“It’s not very efficient obviously.

“Geologists and mine engineers don’t like spending 60%-plus of their time handling data manually.

“There’s a lot of wasted hours of very talented people.

“There’s the potential for a lot of manual data entry errors.

“And there’s this enormous lost opportunity for the industry.

“Why would you invest millions of dollars, or tens of millions of dollars, into some advanced system that can leverage all of this data if it was available in real time if the underlying systems don’t share data?

“This does hold back innovation cycles when you don’t have that system connectivity.

“But then it opens up a lot of opportunity for rapid innovation when you do.”

For more information contact John Kirkman at Enterprise Transformation Partners (https://www.etpartners.com.au/) . Ph: (08) 6444 1708. info@etpartners.com.au


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