Connecting the dots

By Jeanne Els | April 25, 2016

The changing technology landscape is creating exciting opportunities. Data quality is improving and more of it is available in real-time. There are a host of more powerful and accessible advanced analytical tools, and more and more systems are becoming interconnected and interdependent. New technologies, such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things, autonomous equipment, and virtual or augmented reality, are becoming more prevalent and more accepted.

Technology now exists to manage mines as a system and introduce optimization across their entire value chain. There are lots of benefits to be had, but uptake has been slow. Safety performance, productivity, and better margins as unplanned events are reduced, latent capacities are released, and waste is eliminated. But we’ve still got a long way to go.

The digital foundation is already here, and we believe industry context is key. We see real benefit when these solutions include the relevant industry expertise. That understanding enables us to tackle value chain decision-making and predictive asset management, and help remote, real-time operation centers, or performance innovation centers, have a real impact.

Value chain decision-making

Today’s operations are characterized by scale and complexity. There’s been a lot of fast growth in the last decade, and a side effect is operations that are not yet optimized for throughput and margins. This makes it difficult for individual operators to make the right business decisions.

The operator or decision-maker—whether a shift supervisor, superintendent, or manager—must deal with many variables in their day-to-day work. In a large-scale, complex, logistics chain, these people must function across a variety of organizational interfaces.

So, how do we empower these people to take the right actions during real-time process excursions, business interruptions, or change initiatives? Today many of these decisions are made using business rules, KPIs, and experience within distinct organizational silos. However, for the decision to be the right one, it must be informed by the existing business context, deep organizational knowledge, and the right data and visibility across the entire supply chain.

I’m excited to see the direction our work is going—focusing on optimizing the current value chain and then providing a management system for decision-making across it. Ultimately this will enable intelligent, real-time, automatic response to process excursions.

Predictive asset management

Unplanned breakdowns have a direct impact on availability. The knock-on effects are greater variability, increased cost, and more safety incidents associated with unplanned events.

In asset-intensive industries, the importance of asset management is well understood. The need for predictive maintenance goes without saying. And the ability of data-driven decision-making to foresee failures is becoming commonplace, and very much relied upon.

We’re upping the game. We’re enabling equipment to become smart enough to predict when it needs attention, and functional enough to call emergency services before failure occurs. This is only one part of the picture. To flush things out more, we’re working on optimizing the human element in operations.

Performance innovation center

Real-time, remote operation centers bring together the right data, visualization programs, professionals, and analysis to examine equipment and processes. These are popping up more and more as digital technology and advanced communication tools become more common. Our own center builds on these, adding a layer of advanced analytics and industry experts into the mix.

We can help optimize operations remotely—anywhere in the world—as long as we have access or can gather the right data. Our center delivers turnkey solutions, focusing on improving asset and process health by combining world-class industry expertise in a digitally-enabled central location.

As new digital technologies are being adopted, the data foundation is growing. And that’s a good thing. It’s being reinforced so other gains can be realized, supporting the transformation to more proactive and sustainable business models. This change will force us to rethink the way we operate, the way we manage and interpret data, and give us bold new opportunities to use it.