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Digitizing Mining Operations from Pit to Port

The mining industry has its set of specific challenges due to the nature of its operations. Stakeholders must navigate an industry dealing with increasingly stricter regulations, a growing skill gap as older workers retire, and securing ore deposits before turning a profit. The new normal for the mining industry also calls for a rethink of existing operational processes if mining enterprises expect to remain profitable and beat the competition.

Today, digital transformation technology, which supports the application of Industry 4.0 business models, provide the keys for unlocking new opportunities to create value and increase revenue growth in the mining sector. According to the World Economic Forum’s report on the mining and metal industry, embracing digital transformation has the potential to unlock $190 billion in value for the mining sector. This leaves the question of what the benefits of digitizing mining operations are.

The Value-added Proposition Digital Transformation brings to the Mining Industry

The digital transformation of industrial processes generally leads to improved operations, increased productivity, and data-driven insight to solve complex problems. The mining sector is expected to reap these benefits alongside others peculiar to the industry. Examples of the industry-specific benefits miners are expected to gain include:

  • Improved Ore Recovery Rate – Off the mining pit, the ability to maximize mineral recovery is crucial to the financial bottom line of a plant. Conventional processes such as froth flotation have been utilized to maximize mineral recovery but if inaccurate processes or the wrong solution is utilized, mineral loss increases. Digital transformation technologies now provide plant operators with a means to optimize froth flotation processes to optimize recovery.

One example is the use of advanced process control systems and froth cameras which capture flotation data to improve the mineral recovery or froth flotation process. The application of digital transformation technology can improve ore recovery rate by as much as 4 to 10% depending on the technology used.

  • Improve the ability to meet Environmental Protection Requirements – The emission rate from mines and mineral processing plants have always been a cause for concern for environmental agencies across the globe. This is why stricter emission regulations are been set and plants are under every obligation to operate between set guidelines. Digital transformation technologies provide mining plants with multiple solutions to reduce waste and the emission rate their plants produce.

An example is the application of IIoT tools to measure emission data from mining operations. The operational data provides insight into mining operations and their environmental impact. The data IIoT devices capture can also be integrated into simulation models to evaluate the impact of specific mining operations on emission rate. The evaluation results from simulated models then provide the insight needed to design more optimized or lean mining processes.

  • Improving Routing and Scheduling within Mining Facilities – Traditionally, simulation modeling has been applied to develop optimized schedules to ensure a facility runs optimally. Today, intelligent object-based simulation software equipped with OptQuest, an optimization tool, to develop risk-based schedules that take into consideration real-time occurrences.

Risk-based scheduling within mining facilities can reduce capital expenditure; reduce downtime, while improving mining operations. The application of optimized schedules, conveyor systems, and an optimal resource management process can reduce operational expenses by as much as 25%.

  • Improved Safety within Mining Pits – Improved safety is a by-product of the data-driven planning and plant optimization processes digital transformation initiatives enable. An optimized operational schedule leads to less plant floor traffic, automated material handling systems remove operators from the danger pathways, while data analysis provides predictive maintenance guidelines that ensure equipment operates optimally.

According to the World Economic Forum report, the application of digital transformation within the mining industry is estimated to have saved a thousand lives and reduced plant floor accidents by 44,000.

  • Improving Plant Layout Design and Capacity Planning – The evaluation powers of simulation modeling provide a powerful planning tool for mining enterprises. Stakeholders can leverage simulation models to design optimized processing plants, determine a plant’s constraints, and determine schedules to optimize productivity.

One example is the application of simulation analysis to design a low-cost open-cut coal mining plant in South Africa and to determine the effects of operational constraints on its available resources. The simulation analysis provided the insight needed to develop an optimized mining system designed to deliver increased throughput.

  • Avoiding Poor Process Changes – In mining, poor process changes can have disastrous results in terms of loss of throughput, increase in unplanned downtime or even potential injuries. A process digital twin allows the mining company to test different initiatives without risk to the operations. For example, a simulation model can test:
    • Significant process changes (such as building of a new silo, stockpile or even a new mining facility)
    • Changes in arrivals schedules, sick days, work schedule, or maintenance schedules
    • Stress testing; increased demand, employee strikes or long periods of downtime

It can also simulate these changes and the results visualized for key stakeholders.

Conclusion

The digital transformation of the mining sector is expected to bring rich rewards such as profitability, revenue growth, improved planning, and safety to the plant floor. The unique nature of the mining industry means its transformation journey can be complex and due to its unique challenges. That’s why we recommend working with cutting edge technologies and seeking the support of experts. Learn more from the experts in applying simulation modeling to optimize mining operations by speaking with a Simio representative today.

About SET

Simulation Engineering Technologies (SET) is a leader in creating computer simulation models of complex systems. SET has over 20 years of collective experience in utilizing simulation studies for capacity planning, decision support and cost savings.  Learn more at: http://www.setec.co.za

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