Today organizations are continuously investing in core technologies to mitigate challenges such as depleting grades of ore bodies, remoteness of new deposits, lack of infrastructure and skills at the site, deeper underground mining which increases safety risks, etc. Industry has seen many technology innovations to tackle these challenges, however, these innovations by and large affect field level controls. The need of the hour is to have corresponding innovation in Production Process Operating Controls, Operation Management Level Controls and Planning, Recording and Analysis Level Controls to reap the full benefits of the new technologies being leveraged. This is where IT-OT integration can play a key role.
There is a need for innovating in operations management and analysis controls. Data from field level controls when integrated with IT can lead to steep change for a mining organization in terms of profitability. Various sensors can be put to play at field level which will continuously sense equipment operating conditions, trip cycle events, ore quality, payload, equipment or people in proximity and the mine environment. These innovations offer immediate incremental improvements to a mining organization. They also create a wealth of data. But they don’t necessarily translate into big ticket cost reductions by themselves. The data thus generated needs to be used at a Planning, Analysis and Control level to increase operations visibility, enhance decision making and increase in profitability by several magnitudes.
Process transactions such as downtime or production events (which are by themselves derived from sensor data streams) are associated with the drivers that influence mining outputs such as the ore volumes moved and tons mined. These when combined with economic parameters such as commodity price allow the models to provide critical revenue side information to gauge profitability. Likewise, the cost side of the equation needs to be derived from several variables such as the number of cycles for mobile fleets, effective operating time, fuel consumption and costs from Enterprise Resource Planning that captures fuel consumption, labor hours etc. It is important for organizations to continuously assimilate data from OT into models, run regular analysis over it for both short term and long term planning. This will eventually lead to increase in productivity and cost effectiveness across the mining value chain.
I strongly believe that the innovation journey for a mining organization is incomplete without a robust IT-OT integration program. Current technology makes it possible to integrate IT and OT and consolidate data in a single instance, enabling organizations to explore the data for improvement, efficiency and innovation. Mining organizations are already making large investments in smart infrastructure and with minimal investments in IT side high returns are not far off.