Now more than ever remote assistance is needed to keep the lights on at many mining operations across the globe.
The onset of COVID-19-related restrictions has focused the industry’s attention on just how far it can and should automate operations and – nearer term – how it can keep downtime to a minimum at its processing plants.
Metso has been investing in the development of new technologies and digital solutions to aid this cause for decades.
Think of how VisioRock™ and VisioFroth™, combined with Advanced Process Control OCS-4D™, have helped operators monitor rock sizes and flotation efficiency, and optimise production overall, from control rooms far away from where the action is happening. More of its products – such as the recently launched VPX™ filter for tailings dewatering and the Foresight™ smart mining crushing and screening stations – can also be connected to various devices to help monitor equipment.
This wide portfolio of technologies to collect, analyse, and act on data from minerals processing plants was recently combined under its Metso Foresight digital portfolio, which consists of cloud-based IoT and on-premise solutions that collect and analyse machine and process data.
The move has consolidated tools such as the Metso Metrics core remote conditioning monitoring solution and the recently acquired capabilities of HighService Service – which has been providing maintenance and remote monitoring for gearless mill drives for over 20 years – into one integrated solution that mining companies can tap into.
Johanna Newcomb, Vice President, Performance Solutions at Metso, says these recent organic and inorganic investments reflect the company “doubling down” on its digital focus.
“In 2018, we launched Metso Metrics and, in 2019, the acquisition of HighService Service added remote maintenance services to our offering,” she told IM as part of a recent IM Insight Interview.
This year, the company launched its Metso Performance Center solution to keep up this rapid digital momentum.
These centres, currently in Santiago, Chile, and Changsha, China, have been established at just the right time, helping mining companies troubleshoot and carry out maintenance tasks remotely when bringing experts to site may not be possible.
Newcomb explained the rationale for their introduction: “Remote monitoring and analytics, combined with on-site assistance as needed, provides a new, proactive way for Metso to support our customers; to reduce variability of their processes, to optimise the processes and to maximise the use of their assets.”
The creation of the centres has been geared towards leveraging the vast expertise and experience within Metso of equipment, minerals processing and carrying out servicing on a global basis, according to Newcomb.
“The Metso Performance Centers are a new way of funnelling that expertise and data-driven analytics for the benefit of our customers globally,” she said.
While improving process stability, asset reliability and process efficiency and sustaining the improvement over the long term are the key aims of these centres, this type of remote service support could see the philosophy of on-site maintenance teams shift tremendously.
Instead of carrying out ‘firefighting’ tasks, they can focus on proactive elements that optimise the processing plant over the long term, according to Newcomb.
Metso has been able to facilitate such a shift using many of its digital solutions that reside at customer sites such as advanced process control systems, Visio and Audio systems, ore tracking platforms, and others.
But, how do these service centres make the most of these digital solutions?
Soledad Barbera, Head of Metso Performance Centres, explained: “The services are available globally and provided by a multi-disciplinary team of experts. There are two centres in operation, one in Santiago, Chile, currently supporting all time zones, and one in Changsha, China, which services the Chinese market area.”
In the ‘first line of defence’ at these centres, specialised engineers monitor connected equipment and processes. This sees them scrutinising analytics, interpreting data, and delivering insights and recommendations for actions. Customers – and potentially an on-site team of Metso technicians – receive this information.
Barbera says Metso is in the process of expanding the first line of monitoring in different market areas, increasing the network of monitoring engineers and adding market area satellite locations. “This will provide an interface to get closer to our customers and speak to them in their own language as much as possible,” she told IM in the IM Insight Interview.
In the centre’s ‘second line of defence’ – incorporating more complex problems – expert advisors with broader operational experience and knowledge of the customer’s applications will be drafted in to solve issues.
The ‘third line of defence’ will see the company’s global network of experts mobilise to help support long-term solutions development. This includes reliability engineers and product experts.
These remote services help Metso ensure desired performance is reached in deliveries and that this performance is sustained or improved further through a long-term service offering, according to Newcomb.
“By closely connecting the remote services with our existing offering, we are able to mobilise required assistance, changes, parts, etc faster, and elevate the level of proactiveness in our deliveries and services overall,” she said.
This has had a tangible impact on operations at the processing plants connected to these centres, according to Barbera.
“With remote diagnostics now offered through the Metso Performance Center, we have helped customers reduce unplanned downtime by 30%,” she said, referencing an example from the company’s gearless mill drive monitoring division (acquired with HighService Service). “We have also helped cut in half the on-site time needed to resolve failures through this remote monitoring service.”
Metso ensures all customer data is protected throughout the exchange, according to Newcomb.
“We have secure, modular connectivity options and fully respect the privacy of our customers’ data,” she said.
This broad offering has already attracted many customers to the centres, with Barbera saying around 100 pieces of equipment and solutions are currently being serviced through the remote facilities. “They are critical assets for our customers,” Barbera explained.
Expect this number to increase in the very near term, with Metso looking to further broaden the centre’s offering.
“We are expanding the analytics and digital solutions for different types of equipment and services,” Barbera said.
This expansion is very timely.
“The world has changed, and we are living a new way of doing business,” Barbera said. “Many customers want us to support them remotely and continue to be able to give them advice and recommendations.
“With the help of remote services and the latest technologies, Metso is still able to offer expert support to our customers, without a delay.”
This interview is an extract of an IM Insight Interview that will be published later this month