Industry 4.0 in mining – challenges and opportunities

11.04.2016

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Industry 4.0 is picking up momentum in the world and is already widely spread in various consumer industries as well as some extractive branches.

А founding team of talpasolutions – a technology start-up based in Essen, Germany, busy with the implementation of an online asset management platform for mining companies as well as Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM´s) gives its own view of the issue from the inside of the developer lab. DMT, worldwide engineering and consulting group, comments on how such solutions can be implemented in mining.

Opportunities remain unused

Mining tools and equipment are complex and expensive. Standard load-haul-dump (LHD) equipment used for material haulage in underground mining is approximately 70 % more expensive than a lorry with the same capacity used for civil purposes. Very often the equipment is parked due to missing spare parts, sudden failures or simply because there is no ore to load due to insufficiently scheduled processes.

The founders of talpasolutions have noticed that the equipment of several OEMs, is  already supplied with a broad variety of over 100 sensors allowing to read various parameters. However, the readings from only about 5 % of the sensors are taken into consideration while monitoring the state of the machines. Even less information was used to predict the need for maintenance and repair. When asked about the reason for this, most of the OEMs’s representatives have pointed out that the absence of a solid system for data collection, structuring, and analysis. So far, data acquisition and communication between OEM and mines happens sporadically and time-intensively by e-mail and/or USB-stick.

Digging further, it has been observed that the mines hardly utilize any of the information potentially available from the existing sensors. Rather than receiving this information online and analyzing the data to optimize the production process and reduce unnecessary standby times and costly downtimes, employees are to manually measure, for example, the volumes transported or the cycle time from face to breaker.  DMT has been pointing out the importance and possibilities of the effective use of Industry 4.0 solutions in its studies made for various companies worldwide. This concerns all mining processes, from inventory management for OPEX optimization to total production quality control, based on online monitoring of the ore grades further giving the command to automated production and haulage solutions.

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Software conception of assetanalytics

Complex made simple

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Integration of assets in complex operating processes, simulated room & pillar mining situation

Currently, lengthy handwritten or, in the best-case scenario, spreadsheet based failure records and maintenance schedules are a common practice. Unplanned equipment relocations are based on subjective decisions by the shift supervisor with limited overview of the effect on the entire process chain. To allow operating staff a reliable and fast reaction to the changing conditions and to minimize downtimes of the machines, a constant and automated data transfer, well-structured data preparation, and condition analysis, enabled by an organized communication infrastructure, have to be provided.

Companies operating in the “Internet of things” (IoT) segment develop solutions that capture and expand data from various interconnected machines included in an operation. The condensed and meaningful data is displayed to the user allowing them making further decisions.

Being a state-of-the-art technology in automotive and some other industries, Industry 4.0 is quite new in mining. Several success stories from across the world though show that the industry matures. What is missing though is unified vendor independent platform concept available for any client with low investment possibilities (majorly SMEs).

Cooperation is the key word

DMT experience in setting up condition monitoring systems for mining equipment suppliers, such as CAT, as well as a number of refineries, power and processing plants shows that it is vital that the dialogue between the project owner and the solution developer does not end with placing the order, but goes far beyond this until the common goal is achieved. Such a collaborative dialogue helps the developer to understand customers´ specific requirements and every user’s individual story and role within the project. Agile adjustments of the solution in the development process enable an appropriate functional set of applications that generate a certain added value. Incremental application releases guaranty quick wins without losing the big picture.

Procurement and technical departments of mining companies or OEMs tend to be totally isolated and often do not understand the needs of each other. This has been one of the reasons why Industry 4.0, usually following the agile development principle, has been constrained from working in fixed price contracts traditionally  awarded by mining companies. Furthermore, this creates  friendly environment for small and flexible start-ups that come to decisions faster than, IT departments of big manufacturers often struggling with time-consuming decision-making processes.

What to expect

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Screenshot of the assetanalytics Demo, available under talpasolutions.com

Being a bit of a “rara avis” in the world of start-ups, talpasolutions is starting to get positive calls, both from potential customers and investors, interested in bringing Industry 4.0 into yet unexplored industry sectors. The main task of talpasolutions as desired by pilot customers is to develop a vendor independent platform for real-time analysis of big data. Integrated features are a user-friendly interface which allows personnel with user-/role- specific access authorization to receive the required information and improve their performance. Following the request for “no-rocket-science-solutions”, the interface must be intuitive to use and requiring minimum training.

From an OEM perspective, the major benefits of IoT concepts are concentrated  in the area of Equipment Relationship Management (ERM). An integrated after-sales system allows OEMs to collect information about the current condition of equipment, such as wear and tear, from  multiple devices and proactively  contact the responsible mine personnel. Next to improving the lifetime of the assets, this approach will intensify and improve the relationship between OEM and the mine. Moreover, in case of downtime, a faster and more accurate analysis can be performed remotely. This supports the OEM in reducing cost-intensive long-term downtimes as well as preventive on-site visits. By retrieving all relevant information from one source, service engineers can be informed about the existing damage, required tools and supplies in a timely manner. The OEM can also utilize status information about distributed assets. Based on the information of how equipment is being used, important insights for research and development as well as the sales process can be made.

Direct added value for the customer:

  • calibration of mine plan compliance with actual asset/fleet performance
  • improvement by means of KPIs such as technical availability, asset utilization, maintenance metrics (MTTR, MTBF) and process related criteria
  • root cause analysis, trends & event correlation
  • detection of exceptional conditions & anomalies through selective data blending
  • reduction of overall costs of information, communication & collaboration

To summarize, the following challenges are observed in spreading Industry 4.0 in the mining sector:


Courtesy of:

Sebastian-Friedrich Kowitz, talpasolutions GmbH, CEO, sales manager

Artem Zitzer, talpasolutions GmbH, COO, content manager

Alexey Shalashinski, DMT GmbH & Co KG, sales manager, Mining Engineering and Consulting

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