Mining is on the verge of the next technological revolution, driven largely by data, technologies being developed for consumers, and this time, it will be accessible to mines of any size. Some might agree the “modern” age of computer-driven technology in mines began in the 1980s with computer-based dispatch and machine health alarms. The concentrator plants evolved alongside other process-based businesses including SCADA, and subsequently historians and expert systems, alongside other process-based technologies. Large volumes of data, and the data science to process that data has existed for a long time but had not garnered much attention, until now.
During the super-cycle, large mines invested in a generation and style of technology that had been proven over the decade previously. Dispatch systems, to optimize truck flows to shovels, and operator aids, such as drill or dragline monitoring system to aid the operators, also generated significant volumes of data through on-board computers. Large in size, yet low-volume in manufacturing, custom-designed hardened computers, touch screens, external GPS, were installed in the mobile equipment, the data sent over expensive in-pit Wi-Fi systems, landing in structured databases in an office server, and whose key output were basic reports. The business model was to make high margins on the hardware and recurring revenue from a standard support package. These systems have, and continue to produce, data such as machine health, drilling records, mobile Fleet Management Systems (FMS) production monitoring, and time-series data. CIOs have been very successful at deploying these technologies, and supporting the reporting tools. However, mine data is still highly underutilized, as most mine managers and engineers would attest. Few companies even monitor the data utilization. Like any asset that is the result of investment, it must have high utilization in order to maximize the return on investment. The first step to maximizing the value of data is to monitor its use and make someone quantitatively accountable.
Due to the cost, complexity in deployment, use, and support, only the largest mines are able to afford the current-gen technologies for mobile fleet management. Therefore small and medium-sized coal mines, nearly all aggregate and cement (limestone) mines, most medium and smaller underground mines, civil earth-moving projects, and industrial mineral sites cannot afford current-gen mobile equipment monitoring and optimization technologies. These mines typically have far less data since much of it is collected on paper then transferred to a variety of custom spreadsheets and databases. New reliable technology can change this.
The past five years have seen a transformation in our personal lives from mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) and data. We can all use the cloud to store information, where complex data can be processed and fed back to us quickly and in engaging ways.