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In today’s highly volatile commodities market, mining companies are looking to increase their profits not by ramping up production volume but by improving productivity and efficiencies.
Over the past few years, operational costs have skyrocketed. Most of the easily mined high-grade deposits have already been tapped out, leaving low-grade or harder-to-mine — and therefore more expensive to extract — deposits in more remote, environmentally hostile locations. Fuel and electricity costs continue to rise. Maintenance costs have increased with today’s more sophisticated equipment. The shortage of skilled workers has led to higher labor costs. Progressive companies are compensating for these factors by focusing on new technologies and capabilities that improve processes and operational efficiency.
Leveraging Big Data to drive improvements
What these leading mining companies are doing is using Big Data to measure performance metrics that will drive operational improvements. It’s really all about collecting and analyzing data to enable better, faster decision-making. Much of the technology is already in place: data-rich devices (programmable logic controllers, supervisory systems, sensors, power protection equipment) are deployed all across the mining operation and produce a wealth of real-time and historical information that can be used to identify bottlenecks, analyze causes of downtime, report production inputs and outputs, address accounting/ reconciliation challenges, etc.
But the enormous volume of data can often overwhelm operators. Mining is a highly complex and multi-dimensional industry made up of literally thousands of different processes. Harnessing all this data from all these processes and presenting the right information to the right people at the right time within their specific context can be a challenge.
Making better decisions through integrated systems
The most successful mining companies have found that integrated systems are better able to aggregate and present timely, accurate, and relevant information in a digestible form. A consistent control and operating interface allows key personnel all along the value chain to make better strategic decisions about improving efficiency. Running a mine means making business decisions in a potentially volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment. Made in isolation from other process data or based on limited information, there can be unpredictable repercussions for the operations.
A single suite of integrated software tools using a consolidated, unified set of data also enables advanced process modeling. Using real-time data and a common interface, simulators create dynamic models of different processes (including alternative “what if” scenarios) for planning, validating, testing, managing, and optimizing operations.