Spotlight: Extracting innovation

Materials World magazine
1 Dec 2016

Ellis Davies talks to Kevin Shikoluk, Strategic Marketing Leader for GE’s Digital Mine about the range of solutions it provides.

Tell me more about GE Mining

The mining umbrella falls under the transportation business. We also have the propulsion and extraction, mining electrification and water insight businesses on the mining solution side. These departments have been established and are well known in the industry. The business that I am in charge of now is called the Digital Mine, which is a new venture created around eight months ago. 

What is the Digital Mine?

The Digital Mine contains a range of solutions and services that we offer to the global marketplace. It is based on three main pillars, the first of which is the asset performance management, which centres on offering solutions to mines. The mindset is that the mine is a city, and we offer services and solutions to the site around equipment, maintenance and operations and reliability. The Digital Mine ensures that the equipment and day-to-day operations of the minesite are operating correctly, and connects to our app, Predix, an open based platform on the cloud. 

The second section of the Digital Mine is operations optimisation. This offers solutions and insight into how to help the minesite run more efficiently. By this we mean improving throughput, energy use and optimisation, recovery of precious metals and base elements and scrap rates. We really dive deep in terms of looking at the equipment, for example with a flotation circuit we would be working with pressures and different smelters and concentrators. The Digital Mine offers an integrated solution connecting the machines with sensors, managing data constantly and storing it in the cloud or Predix to offer insight to general managers, metallurgists and site operators to help them run the sites more efficiently. 

Thirdly, the Digital Mine offers collision avoidance technology. Anything that is above or below ground will use GPS sensor capabilities to help maximise safe operation and reduce the amount of incidents to promote zero harm.

Are there any restrictions?

There are really no restrictions. We have worked with small sites in Africa all the way up to very large sites in Peru and Chile. There is really no limitation in terms of size. The limiting factor will be the field support. We need the field support and sales infrastructure to support a certain region, making sure we have the correct solution architects and sales team to support the site. It’s not just going to a mine and shaking a hand, – when you close a deal, the collaboration that occurs takes months of getting the solution fully integrated and intimately understanding the equipment, flow sheets and operations. Part of the solution is around working in partnership with the customer to offer a fully automated and integrated system. 

How can the Digital Mine save money?

There is an upfront investment. When we bring a fully automated system to a site, we’re offering a service to connect hardware to software, our Predix app and the solution architect. You have to look at what the payback will be, and that’s where our involvement in the customers’ flow sheets and understanding their capex and opex comes into play. If you can show and demonstrate just a 1% improvement in opex cost, that can equate to millions of dollars of savings at a minesite. If you can improve throughput of a plant by 5–7%, that’s huge in the mining industry. 

In the end, it all comes down to dollars per tonne generated at each site. Once you dig down into the flow sheets and into different value estimators, 1% of saving can be pretty significant.

Could you go into more detail regarding the automation and collision avoidance technology? 

When we talk about underground, we look at vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-person and person-to-person. When you are underground you are in very dangerous conditions, where you may not have the best visibility or a full 360-degree view of where you are working depending on the pit or mine. We offer GPS capabilities that can detect if a haul or excavation truck underground is about to collide with another truck or a person. The GPS sends information to the Predix and, instantaneously through our remote monitoring system, sends this data to the vehicle or person to alert them that they are on a path that could be dangerous. 

Where is the Digital Mine being used?

We have worked with quite a few customers so far, such as Lonmin in South Africa, that needed help with platinum prices being variable and looking for opportunities to streamline and optimise its minesite. We looked at various elements of its operation in order to streamline and implement some optimisation techniques, and we were able to make some recommendations on how to run the site more effectively.

We worked with Impala Platinum, South Africa, to help with some operation optimisation strategies, and were able to show a 2–3% improvement in overall efficiency and plant operation. We’ve worked with gold smelters around the world to help with asset performance management and equipment health. 

What are the future plans for the Digital Mine?

We are always looking to expand our technology and be innovative with the solutions we can bring to the table. We recently merged with Meridium, an asset performance management company, and we’re very excited about that partnership. We’re confident that this integration will allow us to be quicker to the marketplace, as Meridium has a wide range of solution architects that are experts on equipment health, process control, process monitoring and the reliability end of equipment management.

What other projects are you working on?

There is an opportunity we are working on currently with an African concentrator and smelter, and we’re also building some promising opportunities in Brazil that could help us penetrate the South American market to offer our Digital Mine solutions.

Product focus: 

Remote control Horne 5

Falco Resources, owners of the large Horne 5 gold, silver, copper and zinc deposit on Rouyn-Noranda, Canada, are pushing for a high level of automation in the CA$905 million operation. 

With an aim to be in production in the next four years, Falco has outlined the highly automated project that would leverage remote control equipment to transport 15,000 tonnes of material per day. CEO Luc Lessard commented in a recent presentation that Falco would be using remotely controlled trucks underground to boost efficiency and allowing mucking to begin within 15–30 minutes of blasting. 

The operation is said to be able to produce 236,000oz of gold annually when open, targeting 63.8 million tonnes of volcanogenic massive sulphide materials with an average diluted grade of 1.6 grams of gold per tonne.

Caterpillar exhibits new tech

Caterpillar Inc. demonstrated its focus on new technologies at MINExpo 2016 that look to improve miners’ productivity and efficiency. The company concentrated on exhibiting technology relating to data analytics and equipment life-cycle management.

The exhibit showcased a number of Caterpillar’s projects across a 52,000 square foot space featuring surface and underground mining equipment. Autonomous trucks, dozers, drills and underground loaders were also displayed with a focus on the impact these vehicles can have on efficiency, safety and productivity. A large portion of the exhibit was given to the equipment management life cycle, covering parts, repair, retrofit and rebuild options. Discussion areas were also set up for Cat Solutions and Electric Power offerings and microgrid power solutions. Interactive machine simulators and virtual reality safety experiences were also present. 

Caterpillar group president Denise Johnson has said that the company has continued to make significant investment in research and development to bring increased productivity and efficiency to mining, looking forward to scalable automation and new hard rock cutting technologies.

Mining3 forms in research powerhouse

Australian research bodies CRCMining and CSIRO have joined to form Mining3, enabling the development of technologies the mining industry needs to overcome its greatest challenges. 

The partners claim that Mining3 aims to shorten the innovation cycle to provide quicker benefits, helping the industry to change in order to keep up with increasing economic, environmental and social pressures. 

Mining3 is said to have a wide range of capabilities including rock sensing and characterisation, blasting, excavation, haulage and automation.

Mphasis launches DigiOps

IT services and solutions provider Mphasis has launched DigiOps, an intelligent automation platform that is billed as suitable for industrial mining applications among a range of other industries. InfraGenie, an AI platform for automation, drives DigiOps, which is powered by German IT automation company Arago. 

The solutions-based model is fully autonomous and offers self-managing predictive analytics and diagnostic tools. The infrastructure combines advanced analytics and AI based automation to offer resolutions for infrastructure related events. 

Mphasis claims that DigiOps can be easily integrated into an existing system, and can help 50–80% of all operational activities to become automated using machine learning capabilities and internal automation processes. 

Schneider Electric’s big plans

Automation Company Schneider Electric India plans to launch up to 365 products and solutions this year, increasing its industrial automation footprint in India. This increase in product, solutions and services will enable the company to grow regionally and nationally, catering for demand from power, oil and gas, water and waste water and mining. 

Schneider Electric looks to grow its position in the Indian Automation market in turn with the strong demand present because of Government initiatives such as ‘Make in India.’