Digital technologies allow today’s mining operations to reach new levels of performance from mine to market, across the whole mining value chain. The Digital Mine leverages the best of digital technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) cloud or on-premise platforms to connect the mining value chain from mine to market and from sensor to boardroom.
The convergence of IT and OT has been an increasing conversation point within the mining industry in recent years, and we are now seeing many of the large global miners evolving towards organisational alignment – to remove the historical separation between IT and OT environments – in search of lower operating costs and more efficient teams. Effectively delivering IT/OT convergence is as much a people, culture and change management challenge as it is a technology project.
PLCs, historians and SCADA systems historically provide the onsite solution to view the mining production process from an operational standpoint. It is somewhat isolated from the IT business systems that control the orders, forecasting and planning. This separation in company visibility puts a hold on moving towards next generational growth. A major global miner with multiple iron ore mines in one Australian region moved its short-term production, planning and control activities from the mine sites to its new remote operations centre.
The new operations centre included the implementation of a supply chain visualisation tool that represents an end-to-end (pit to port) view of the iron ore supply chain, showing vital operational metrics in near-real-time, permanently displayed on large screens, with data sourced from 16 disparate systems. It is the first time this client can see its entire supply chain in one place, assisting decision-making for the whole business.
Supply Chain Visualisation Tool
Thankfully major PLC manufacturers like Emerson are embedding the IT connectivity within the PLC control layer device to make industrial 4.0 interactions seamless. The Emerson CPL410 PLC comes with Open Linux Ubuntu embedded into the PLC to become an Optimising Outcome Controller (OOC). Its operating system is half open Linux with SQL, Python, Apache Web server and half Programmable Automation Controller (PAC) sitting on top of a hypervisor hardware platform.
The benefits of linking the value chain between OT and IT in the heart of the manufacturing process is transparent and return on investment is quick to realise. Evolution Mining introduced a live online data monitoring system to the Mungari mine which improved the average payload of trucks by 4% in the commissioning phase.
Traditional PLC’s are feedback control; the system waits for an error to occur between the measured value and the setpoint before responding, making the system reactionary. Outcome Optimised Control utilises market data to feedforward control where the prediction is used to respond to the process before an error occurs.
Delving deeper into the analogy of PLC control, proportional integral derivative (PID) loops are used to set flow rates, temperatures, tank volumes, pressures and the like. Typically set according to the confined process using static setpoints regardless of the influence from outer process systems or environmental conditions. These PID loops must be fine-tuned periodically to get the best output from the machine over time. However, by linking the PLC control layer to the external business systems using OOC, it is now possible to automatically tune PID loops with high precision using techniques in the outer business system loop according to demand, or weather conditions to analyse process dynamics to determine optimal gains automatically.
The ability to pass control and market data in both directions are two-fold. IT systems now have direct access to the control layer, and the control layer can leverage IT advancements so that resources companies can turn their data into actionable insights and operational improvements. Businesses can not only reduce the initial time of setting up a PID control loop, but it also allows them to dynamically adjust the loop according to changing variables and operational circumstances to increase their time to market and making their processes run more efficiently over time.
Outcome Optimised Controllers such as the Emerson CPL410 facilitate the integration of a wide range of different devices and equipment with business automation tools using standard communication protocols, making it possible to achieve a new level of business automation. It removes the complexities away from IT systems trying to communicate to non-IT automation devices by providing an IT interface on the automation controller. Integrating the IT, OT and Cloud infrastructure directly at the control system, flattens the architecture and enables new levels of efficiencies through continually developed external cloud technologies in the IT space. Automation data now has access to predictive analytics that yields “real-life” responses according to the results of these analytics. Ideal for the digital twin concept or when consolidating data from siloed databases such as dispatch, historians and ERP solutions to agnostic cloud platforms with analytics.
Mine of the future
Resolute Mining is planning for its Syama Gold Mine in Mali Africa to be an example of an Underground Mine of the Future. It aims to establish fully automated loading and hauling, automated fleet and production management and scheduling, real-time tracking, monitoring and data analytics with the rollout of driverless trucks, loaders and drills in 2019. It is expected to lead to improved safety, higher productivity and lower operating costs through industrial 4.0 connected fleet management. Local SCADA systems usually provide alerts for alarms and events but can be quite challenging to debug and diagnose the issue in the field especially in remote areas. OOC makes it possible to use Edge technology to monitor and diagnose a fleet of control systems remotely and securely using cloud-based services. It ensures complete accountability for various remote assets and provides a real-time assessment of the health of their systems.
Integrating augmented reality into the production process, operators can identify heavy vehicle, and machinery health statistics live from their database reducing time and data mishandling. Manual paper forms are a thing of the past; service logs and fuel reports are electronically gathered. The Outcome Optimised Controller utilises the onboard Linux programming environment to provide the necessary platform and processing power to integrate sensor data stored in the SQL database sent to the augmented reality glasses HID. When the operator looks at machinery that matches a predefined shape or AR marker, the data appears in the glasses for immediate decision making.
Leaning on third-party IoT kit such as Amazon’s green grass IOT kit, OOCs can be integrated quite easily with voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa to industrial HMI’s. Marrying this technology together will reduce training and troubleshooting time for operators, voicing questions on the fly with audio procedural and explanatory responses.
Accessing internet data securely from the control layer allows the mines to use the large water pumps efficiently. By actively monitoring weather forecasts and the remaining amount of allocated solar energy versus the energy price, pump operation can be managed to reduce energy costs during the non-daylight hours, all from their smartphone, saving them up to $11,000 a month.
Where to next?
In today’s technologically driven world, businesses cannot afford to miss any opportunity to automate industrial processes and integrate onsite industrial control systems with dynamic business objectives and target outcomes. Whether it’s building a “digital mine nerve centre” for data-driven planning, control and decision-making, or integrating cloud analytics and smart app services on board the control layer to deliver advanced technologies. Outcome Optimising Controllers offer generational advancement over traditional isolated PLC’s to provide businesses with a way to increase connectivity and information-sharing across their IT, OT and cloud-based systems. Amalgamating this technology together as one will produce endless possibilities in operational efficacy.