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Rayven’s I4 Mining to support industry’s energy transition, decarbonisation and profitability plans

Rayven has announced the launch of I4 Mining, a new suite of completely interoperable digital mining solutions designed to, it says, accelerate the mining sector’s transition to a profitable zero-harm, zero-carbon, zero-waste future.

I4 Mining offers six ready-to-deploy solutions (plus a bespoke development option) featuring pre-built logic, artificial intelligence and enterprise functionality; allowing them to be deployed and performing in the field in weeks, the company says.

Rayven says it is already working with several large global miners to support their key strategic goals, with I4 Mining leveraging Rayven’s existing partner network, as well as the broader Rayven team, to provide data science and implementation services globally.

Jared Oken, CEO of Rayven, said: “We are truly excited to be able to provide the mining sector with a new suite of solutions that will enable businesses to modernise to support energy transition, achieve their own carbon neutrality commitments and protect short-to-medium term profitability.”

Phillip McBride, Rayven’s CSO who will be leading the new I4 Mining unit, added: “The mining industry is already undergoing a significant paradigm shift and it has a very clear future: one that supports energy transition whilst delivering on zero-harm, zero-carbon and zero-waste strategic goals.

“I4 Mining’s new suite of solutions combine the Industry 4.0 technologies needed to achieve this transformation both fast and profitably, including pre-built artificial intelligence and adaptive analytics functionality, giving miners the specialist platform that they need to effectively transition their operations whilst maintaining short-term success.

“The solutions can be deployed in weeks, are completely interoperable, and are commercially viable at scale – de-risking transformation projects and enabling miners to prove the efficacy of Industry 4.0 technologies and deliver tangible results, fast.”

The I4 Mining solutions include:

  • Health + Safety: connect workforce, plant and technologies, utilising historical and real-time data to prevent and predict workforce harm across operations;
  • Environment + Community: a complete environmental monitoring, management and compliance solution that enables miners to monitor operations in real-time and use artificial intelligence to predict, prevent and quickly remediate breaches;
  • Asset Monitor + Maintenance: a real-time asset monitoring, utilisation optimisation and predictive maintenance solution all-in-one;
  • Yield + Production: monitor and analyse all of the variables that go into material extraction, screening and processing to uncover improvements and then seize them to increase yields and efficiency;
  • Energy + Resource: optimise the usage of the inputs that go into mining operations and reduce waste to improve profitability and utilisation;
  • Oversight: improves real-time strategic decision making and speed of execution by providing up-to-date, accurate data from all of an organisation’s sources into an easy-to-use predictive analytics and operational control engine; and
  • Create + Disrupt: bespoke solution development.

Axora survey reveals mining sector moves towards digital transformation

Axora, the digital solutions marketplace for industrial innovators, has published a new report into digital trends and key growth drivers in the global metals and mining industry, with digital transformation and innovation highlighted as crucial elements to meeting the rising demand from the energy transition.

The ‘Axora 2021 Innovation Forecast: Metals and Mining’ is based on a survey of 150 senior decision makers worldwide, as well as interviews with small and large operators alike. The findings indicate that the metals and mining sector is driving forward with digital transformation but there is still more to be done ahead of the energy transition, Axora says.

“There’s been a dramatic shift in how metals and mining companies perceive digital transformation,” Ritz Steytler, CEO, Axora, says. “As the sector emerges after a period of uncertainty, firms are realising the need for a more coordinated and strategic approach to ensure they deploy the right technologies, in the right places, at the right time.”

The key highlights of the research include the opinion that digital transformation and innovation are seen as crucial to meeting the rising demand from the energy transition:

  • Ninety-nine percent of decision makers now believe technology and innovation are critical to their organisation’s survival;
  • Ninety-four percent of respondents said their deployments were advanced or intermediate;
  • Those in North America, the UK and South America saw themselves as most advanced, whereas South Africa saw itself as least advanced; and
  • The biggest barriers to executing digital transformation were cybersecurity concerns (42% of respondents) and lack of IT infrastructure to handle data from digital solutions (38%).

Achieving more with less and improving working environments were popular reasons for deploying digital solutions, according to the survey, which highlighted that:

  • There’s more focus on using technology to boost direct productivity, foster a better working environment and improve return on investment than to prevent downtime;
  • Companies are taking a longer-term view when it comes to cost savings from digital transformation. In the next two years, 24% of respondents anticipate saving 1-5% from digital technology. Within five years, just 3% of respondents anticipate that level of savings, with most predicting 11-15%; and
  • More than three-quarters of respondents prioritised the value of digital technology over its cost.

Tech-wise, companies have focused on analytics and semi-autonomous equipment, with:

  • Seventy-three percent of respondents saying these had been deployed to some extent; and
  • Semi-autonomous equipment was most likely to be 100% deployed across the organisation.

Application-wise, there’s been emphasis on remote operations and automation, according to the survey, with:

  • Seventy-three percent of organisations having deployed remote operations technology;
  • Driver fatigue monitoring was the application most likely to have been deployed across 100% of the organisation; and
  • Seventy-two percent of respondents said their company had implemented a Remote Operations Centre, with a further 15% saying they’re planning to do so in the next year.

There are clear regional trends for technologies, Axora says, with, Russia and Kazakhstand expected to focus extensively on robotics in the next year. Over this same timeframe, Australia will focus on artificial intelligence (AI), with the UK-based companies focused on cloud-based platforms. North America, like Australia, is also focused on machine learning.

In the next five years, Russia is expected to gain a major focus on robotics as well as advanced analytics and sensors, North America on IIoT and the UK-based firms on autonomous haulage technology.

The survey uncovered that AI is seen as the main growth driver, with 57% of decision makers saying their organisation had deployed AI to some extent and 59% of respondents ranking it first for growth potential in the next year (followed by robotics with 45%).

“The focus on AI is particularly marked in Australia and the UK,” Axora says. “Although Russia and Kazakhstan are least likely to see it as a growth driver in the next 12 months, they predict a major push in the next three to five years.”

In contrast to popular opinion, the top drive for digital transformation is not safety, according to the survey, with respondents citing people safety as the third highest business priority over the next five years.

In the next two years, mid-sized companies are most likely to see people safety as a key business priority. In the next five years, small companies have the greatest focus on it, according to the survey responses.

One of the last findings to come out of the survey was companies need support to succeed with digital transformation, with:

  • Eighty-two percent of respondents saying a partner had the biggest influence on their digital technology adoption, with the preference being for generic rather than industry-specific ones;
  • Mid-sized companies, those in North America and senior site managers most likely suffering from digitalisation information overload; and
  • Ninety-nine percent saying they would benefit from a digital transformation community where they could learn from peers’ experiences with different technologies and applications.

Joe Carr, Industry Innovation Director, Metals and Mining, Axora, concluded: “The metals and mining sector has made huge progress and is forging ahead with digital transformation with clear regional trends in place. However, there are still opportunities to benefit further through partnerships and by looking more closely at the safety side for opportunities to revolutionise standard ways of working and accelerate the move towards zero harm.”

CR Digital bring AI to its Titan 3330 load haul payload management system

CR Digital has unveiled its most advanced real-time payload monitoring system, with the upgraded Titan 3330 solution, now powered by artificial intelligence.

Guided by 2.5 billion tonnes of in-field experience, every new capability was developed to help operators load trucks more accurately, increase average payload per truck and reduce maintenance events caused by overloads, the company says.

The new AI-powered system continually improves its ability to identify a productive load, learning and optimising further with each bucket, according to the company.

Kevin Greenwood, Head of Product Strategy at CR Digital, says the upgraded Titan 3330 system is the result of years of work and represents a huge breakthrough in CR Digital’s product offerings.

“Our artificial intelligence is now able to determine when a machine is digging versus gardening with increased accuracy,” he said. “Even better: Titan 3330’s ability to identify productive digging will only increase over time. More accurate data leads to better decision making for our customers, and ultimately improved productivity.”

Titan 3330 now also comes with new Truck.Trakka technology, which quickly and accurately identifies a customer’s haul truck fleet, so target payloads are adjusted and optimised by individual vehicle.

“To fully optimise the payload cycle, we need to understand the capacity of each truck in the fleet,” Greenwood said. “Our Truck.Trakka technology can accurately identify which individual truck is being loaded at any time, so Titan 3330 can understand what a productive load is and adjust the target payload accordingly.”

CR Digital partnered with operators to develop an evolved user experience that’s more intuitive than ever, it said. This means operators can access and interpret critical information more readily, enabling more focus on digging efficiently.
The architecture of Titan 3330 has been similarly upgraded.

Continuing CR Digital’s commitment to technological advancement, the new software platform is built to grow with its customers; increasing functionality, insights, supportability and availability, CR Digital says.

Greenwood added: “Our new software architecture puts us in a position to be able to deliver future upgrades more easily and faster, with minimised downtime for our customers. These kinds of behind-the-scenes improvements aren’t obvious to our customers but result in software that simply works.”

An open-source API means more real-time data and better data-driven decisions, according to the company.

“With Titan 3330 now supporting the most comprehensive range of machines yet, across both surface and underground mining, your mine site’s load haul data can be consolidated into one cloud-hosted location,” CR Digital said. “Titan 3330 supports any make and model of face shovel, backhoe, wheel loader and underground LHD machines.

“You won’t drown in data, however, as CR Digital’s intelligent Orion Data Analytics solution empowers you to see the big picture and translate data into action.”

Titan 3330 comes with market-leading hardware built to withstand the harshest conditions of mining, while hard anodised aluminium construction (IP67-rated) provides total protection from dust, high pressure water, extreme temperatures, shocks and vibrations, the company said.

RPMGlobal’s SaaS model enhanced with IMAFS and Shift Manager cloud-based transitions

RPMGlobal says it has accelerated the transition of its product suite to the cloud, releasing two new cloud offerings to the market.

The company’s IMAFS™ inventory optimisation and Shift Manager™ operational management solutions have now made the transition, the company said.

IMAFS uses artificial intelligence-based algorithms to enhance inventory management and forecasting accuracy for miners. It connects to an organisations ERP, enabling operations to continuously improve the accuracy of parts availability, reduce inventories, decrease stockouts and reduce equipment downtimes, according to the company.

Transitioning IMAFS from a hosted solution in the cloud to a full Software as a Service (SaaS) model will provide users with greater flexibility in security and authentication, RPMGlobal claims. As a result of the shift to the cloud, customers can now continuously optimise their inventory management processes.

“The move to the cloud has as an array of benefits, including increased ease of use, as users now only need a browser to access the IMAFS software,” RPMGlobal says. “Other benefits include high levels of scalability and availability, a modern API interface, faster deployment time and improved cost effectiveness.”

Shift Manager, meanwhile, is a short-term task planning and execution solution that enables users to collaborate and communicate through a single, integrated plan. The software allows users to manage tasks and resource allocations to drive more effective on-shift decision making and greater compliance to plan, according to the company.

As a cloud-enabled hosted solution, users are able to execute short-term shift planning through a single, integrated, web-based application without the need to be physically on site, the company says. Other benefits include enhanced security and collaboration across departments and a rapid implementation methodology that includes several pre-built integration points.

RPMGlobal Chief Technology Officer, Paul Beesley, says cloud adoption will help the industry unlock additional productivity and sustainability improvements.

“Cloud applications facilitate remote collaboration and the scalability that mining organisations require while creating robust data storage solutions that are more cost-efficient when compared to outdated hardware,” he said.

“Our products have been designed to leverage the tools and services available on the cloud platforms to rapidly build enhanced solutions for our customers. The transition to a full cloud offering across our full product portfolio is being enabled due to our above industry average investment in research and development and we look forward to continuing our progress in releasing more cloud offerings to the market soon.”

RPMGlobal Chief Executive Officer, Richard Mathews, added: “The company is committed to investing in technical innovation to enable customers to operate their mines as efficiently as possible.

“With more customers adopting a remote-operating business strategy through technology enablement, our work to migrate other products to a complete SaaS model will ramp up as we strive to add additional value for our present and future customers.”

VTT, Nokia, Sandvik on board with 5G-powered underground mining research project

VTT, Nokia and Sandvik, recognising the potential of faster network coverage for unlocking efficiencies in mining for improved productivity, safety, environmental sustainability and global competitiveness, are to collaborate in a 5G-powered research project on next generation underground mining technology.

These benefits will be realised through the introduction of next generation mining technology, including autonomous, connected machinery, digital automation and advanced analytics for real-time situational awareness and control, to enable safety, productivity and sustainability improvements in mining operations.

Next Generation Mining (NGMining ), is, the partners say, a new project, funded by Business Finland, bringing together industrial 5G private networks, edge computing and artificial intelligence (AI) technology-based solutions to enable digital transformation in mining.

The goal of the NGMining project is to build proof of concept experimental systems to evaluate integrated connectivity solutions to be tested in harsh underground mining environments. The objectives pertaining to the 5G network infrastructure cover spectrum usage in the underground mining environment, 5G modems integrated in relevant machinery and user equipment, and edge computing. Identified challenges include: understanding signal behaviour in underground environments, harsh environments for ­“HW”, and network design requirements to ensure underground connectivity with respect to bandwidth, frequency range, latency, reliability and scalability.

By engaging with key industry players in the mining segment, the intention is to drive joint experiments for mining digitalisation. The target is to develop a mine-compliant connectivity infrastructure, with integrated solutions that incorporate safety and tracking technologies and AI enablers, for safe and efficient operation of autonomous connected working machines in underground mines.

Project phases include use case definition for autonomous machinery in mining, solution evaluation via testing platforms with 4G/5G wireless capabilities, selection of most value-added results for development and commercialisation, and pilot implementations in operational customer mines.

Finland’s unique industry ecosystem enables creation and piloting of technologies, solutions and business models, and the partnership will continue to grow as it takes on new challenges and additional partners, both domestic and international, according to VTT.

VTT is coordinating the joint R&D project with Nokia and Sandvik as the leading industry experts.

Sauli Eloranta, Vice President, Safe and Connected Society, VTT, said that the organisation would support all project partners by coordinating the project.

In its research, VTT is applying and further strengthening the competences related to telecommunication technology, situational awareness, sensor technologies, edge computing and AI on new application areas in a mining context, Eloranta added.

Jarkko Pellikka, Director, Nokia Unlocking Industrial 5G program, said: “Collaboration across the ecosystem is essential for developing winning technology solutions that will meet productivity and sustainability targets and capture global market share in the growing mining business.”

Miika Kaski, Commercialisation and Networks Lead at Sandvik, said the OEM was conducting research on 5G connectivity use cases in the mining environment and the NGMining consortium would help facilitate this with its network partners.

The NGMining project is also collaborating with the Sustainable Industries X initiative, as the results on autonomous connected working machines can also be exploited in other industries.

The two- year NGMining project kicked off in May 2021, and also includes input from the University of Oulu as a research partner, as well as company partners Epec, SATEL, Huld, Terrasolid, Outsight, Etteplan, Noptel, Unikie, Iiwari, Millisecond and Wizense ja Indagon. The project advisory board includes representatives from Outokumpu and Agnico Eagle, Telia 5G Business, Kalmar and Ponsse.

Bis to provide tailored equipment solution for Anglo American Capcoal contract

Australia-based Bis has secured a new multi-year contract for Anglo American’s Capcoal operations near Middlemount, in the Bowen Basin of Queensland.

The off-road haulage, materials handling and site services contract is the latest in an ongoing relationship between Anglo and Bis that spans more than 20 years.

The contract will see Bis supply a tailored high payload equipment solution for the operation’s rejects haulage. Additionally, the company will deliver site services including road maintenance, dust mitigation and run of mine equipment feed, as well as haulage of topsoil, rock and run of mine coal as required.

Bis Chief Executive Officer, Brad Rogers, said the company’s ability to provide a tailored haulage and logistics solution, specific to this operation, was a key factor in securing the new contract.

“We have a long history of integrating customisable OEM innovations and existing solutions to deliver against specific customer objectives. This competency continues to drive operational efficiencies and reduce costs for our customers. It’s a formula that works.

“For instance, the specific higher payload capacity solution put forward for this project delivers significant advantages for Anglo American. It means a reduction in the total equipment required, vehicle movements and fuel consumption; all three of which directly contribute towards improved safety, sustainability and productivity outcomes for the customer.”

The range of tailored equipment incorporated to deliver the project includes double trailer configuration haulers, wheel loaders, graders, water trucks and a compaction roller.

The fleet is fitted with the latest Bis safety and productivity management systems, including Trifecta, which is a new in-cabin artificial intelligence driver and vehicle monitoring software developed with EDGE3 Technologies. The system collects and analyses data in real time to improve both safety and productivity. The system collects, analyses and reports driver behaviours such as drowsiness, mobile phone use, smartwatch use, smoking, seatbelt and other violations. Trifecta then ‘learns’ over time to pre-empt high risk incidents in real-time through alerts to drivers and supervisors. Bis says it has exclusive rights to use and sell the system across a range of markets.

On site mobilisation for this new contract is expected to commence from August.

Rio Tinto and Schneider Electric partner on decarbonisation initiatives

Rio Tinto and Schneider Electric have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for a “first-of-its-kind” collaboration to develop a circular and sustainable market ecosystem for both companies and their customers.

This multi-product partnership will see Schneider Electric use responsibly-sourced materials produced by Rio Tinto. These include low-carbon aluminium and copper produced with renewable power, iron ore and borates. Rio Tinto will, in turn, use energy and industrial services from Schneider Electric, as the companies work together to develop digital platforms, technologies and solutions to be deployed across the metals and mining supply chain to drive further decarbonisation, they said.

Rio Tinto Chief Commercial Officer, Alf Barrios, said: “This unique partnership will help accelerate decarbonisation and renewable energy solutions by combining low-carbon materials with cutting-edge digital technology. Working together will allow Rio Tinto and Schneider Electric to pursue opportunities beyond what is possible for either company on its own.

“This collaboration also opens doors to consider strategic initiatives such as expanding the use of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to reduce downtime in our plants, digitisation of our supply chains, and a host of other transformative technologies.”

Schneider Electric Executive Vice-President Industrial Automation, Barbara Frei, said: “We are excited to work with Rio Tinto to develop clean and pioneering solutions to meet industrial decarbonisation challenges. As the world’s most sustainable corporation and a manufacturer with a global network of smart factories and smart distribution centres, Schneider Electric is on a mission to make industries of the future eco-efficient, agile, and resilient through open, software-centric industrial automation and sustainable energy solutions. This new partnership demonstrates that Rio Tinto is as passionate as we are about bridging progress and sustainability for all.”

The partnership will draw on Schneider Electric’s Energy as a Service expertise to evaluate the use of innovative solutions, including microgrids, to supply energy from low-carbon sources, and artificial intelligence and advanced analytics to help meet sustainability goals at Rio Tinto sites and throughout its supply chain.

Rio Tinto’s START traceability and transparency initiative, the first sustainability label for aluminium using blockchain technology, will be deployed with Schneider Electric to unlock value for customers, suppliers and partners, it said. The companies will work to expand this transparency, offering START in combination with Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure™ platform, an IoT system architecture that connects everything in an enterprise to deliver enhanced safety, reliability, efficiency and sustainability.

The companies will also partner to evaluate emerging innovation opportunities, such as the efficient production of critical materials for renewable technologies and advances in low-carbon, green steel manufacturing, both of which will play a significant long-term role in industrial decarbonisation.

TruckMetrics and the true costs of lost crusher production

The importance of optimising blast parameters to reduce the cost of comminution and cut back on energy use is often stressed across the industry, but effective blasting can also reduce the likelihood of crusher obstructions, Motion Metrics says.

Most unplanned plant downtime is crusher-related and primarily due to blockages caused by oversized feed. These events can cause mines to incur significant financial losses due to unplanned downtime, a decrease in throughput, or an increase in energy use, according to the company.

When boulders are larger than the opening of the primary jaw crusher, they can build up in – and eventually block or obstruct – the crusher. In this case, production must be temporarily stopped to break down or remove the boulder. But even boulders small enough to be processed by the primary jaw crusher can cause problems as breaking down large rocks requires a great deal of energy and can result in power spikes, slower production rates, and wear and tear of the crusher liner, Motion Metrics says.

Even brief crusher delays can have massive effects over time.

“For example, one of our customers is a large copper mine in Kazakhstan that experienced average crusher delays of approximately seven minutes per incident,” the company said. “Although these delays were short, they add up to an estimated total cost of $650,000 in lost production each year.”

Another Motion Metrics customer, a Peruvian mine that is one of the largest copper producers in the world, experiences an average loss of $5.73 million/y, Motion Metrics says, while, at an iron ore mine in Brazil, production interruptions cost roughly $3.65 million/y.

“Mines have traditionally taken a reactive approach to mitigating the problems associated with oversized material,” Motion Metrics says. “A boulder obstruction is typically identified by monitoring trends in crusher throughput – a falling trend indicates that material is not able to pass through the crusher. At this point, the blockage or obstruction has already occurred. Mine personnel must halt production to dig out the boulders, or use rock breakers to clear the obstruction, creating a bottleneck and further decreasing production.”

Motion Metrics says a common misconception is that a grizzly can eliminate the problem of oversized material.

“It is true that, with a grizzly in place, boulders are less likely to enter the primary crusher, however, a grizzly is still susceptible to blockages – mine personnel need to remove oversized material or schedule rock breaking,” it explained.

The best way to manage oversized material is to avoid the situation entirely but, failing that, mines should aim to mitigate problems caused by boulders as early in the process as possible.

Motion Metrics developed TruckMetrics to prevent oversized material from reaching the processing plant in the first place.

Mounted on a gantry above the mine road, TruckMetrics monitors each passing haul truck to detect boulders and analyse particle size in real time – without interrupting production. Using artificial intelligence and stereo imaging, the system automatically analyses the truck bed, segments each visible rock, and identifies any oversized material. If a boulder is detected, the system automatically alerts dispatch so that trucks can be diverted.

“TruckMetrics, therefore, provides a two-pronged approach to mitigating problems caused by oversized material,” Motion Metrics said. “First, it helps keep boulders out of the crusher by identifying trucks that contain oversized material and diverting them before they reach the plant. Secondly, the particle size data TruckMetrics captures can be used to optimise blasting parameters so that fewer boulders are produced in the first place.”

TruckMetrics is just one of several services within the Motion Metrics ecosystem that boost productivity and energy efficiency without compromising on safety, the company says.

BHP, SensOre progress artificial intelligence-backed exploration agreement to ‘Phase 3’

SensOre says it is to advance its Joint Targeting Agreement (JTA) with BHP to “Phase 3” after receiving approval from the major miner.

Under the JTA, SensOre was required to meet certain hurdle rates and technical thresholds through deployment of its Discriminant Predictive Targeting® (DPT®) technology and related auxiliary systems. SensOre says it has met or exceeded the requirements set for Phases 1 and 2.

Richard Taylor, CEO of SensOre, said: “The SensOre team has been excited by the performance of its systems in targeting new commodity and deposit types. The relationship with BHP and its support for innovation in exploration has been incredibly valuable. The results derive from the truly joint nature of the project and shared view that better use of geoscience data will lead to improvements in discovery rates. We are really thrilled with the results.”

SensOre and BHP reached agreement on a letter of intent in May 2020, confirmed via execution of the JTA on September 18, 2020. The JTA envisages a phased process, training the DPT technology on commodity-specific deposit types and applying the knowledge gained to a predetermined search space. SensOre stands to benefit from fees for the targeting exercise and potential success-based payments on certain discoveries arising from the technology, it said.

SensOre aims to become the top performing minerals targeting company in the world through the deployment of artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies, specifically its DPT workflow. SensOre collects all available geological information in a terrane and places it in a multi-dimensional hypercube or Data Cube, with its big data approach allowing DPT predictive analytics to accurately predict known endowment and generate targets for further discovery, it says.

The Axora take on crushing and comminution

As we are continually told, comminution is one of the most energy intensive single steps in the resource extraction business.

One estimate is that it accounts for 36% of all the energy used in the extraction of copper and gold, which is only a shade over the 30% proposed as an average by another industry expert for all mining and mineral processing industries.

It also accounts for an estimated 3% of the global energy requirement for metal production.

These energy requirements are shocking from a sustainability and greenhouse gas emission perspective; they are also extremely costly regarding operating expenses on site.

It is with this in mind that IM touched base with Joe Carr, Industry Innovation Director of Mining at Axora.

A spinoff from the Boston Consulting Group, Axora has emerged as a business-to-business digital solutions marketplace and community for industrial innovators. It says it allows industrial companies to discover, buy and sell digital innovations and share knowledge in its community, powered by an advanced marketplace.

“We exist to transform industries to be digital, safer, more sustainable and efficient,” the company states on its website.

Having recently gone to press with the annual crushing and comminution feature (to be published in the IM April 2021 issue), IM spoke with Carr to find out what the Axora marketplace has to offer on the comminution and crushing front.

IM: What are the main issues/concerns you continuously hear from your mining clients when it comes to designing and maintaining comminution circuits? How many of these problems/issues can already be solved with existing technology/solutions?

JC: One of key issues in this area we hear from our customers at Axora is the blending quality of the input ores.

Joe Carr, Industry Innovation Director of Mining at Axora

This could be particularly relevant in the sulphide space, for instance.

I did some work years ago on Pueblo Viejo for Barrick. When I was there, one of the things we were working on was blending the sulphides as we were feeding the mill from numerous satellite pits with very different sulphide grades. Because we were processing the ore with an autoclave, high-grade sulphides would cause a temperature spike and the low-grade sulphides would lower the temperature. This constant yo-yoing of the feed into the autoclave was terrible for the recovery of metals against the plan.

Generally, the old school way of blending is setting up stockpiles of ore based on whatever variable you want to manage at your operation. You would put a defined amount of each into the primary crusher on the understanding this would create a ‘blended’ feed for the processing plant.

With the information we have at our fingertips today, this process seems outdated.

You could, for example, use HoloLens or another VR system in tandem with the shovel operator to be able to see exactly what material he or she is excavating. That can then be linked back to the geological block model, with this material then tracked in the trucks and onto the run of mine stockpile, before heading to the plant.

This is where something like Machine Max comes in. Machine Max is a bolt-on IoT sensor that tracks where your trucks are in real time – where they have been and where they are going. The processing piece requires block model integration into a mine plan system. If you have the building blocks in place – the networking, sensors, additional infrastructure, etc – Machine Max could, when integrated with this model, allow you to attempt real-time ore tracking.

“If you have the building blocks in place…Machine Max could, when integrated with this geological block model, allow you to attempt real-time ore tracking,” Joe Carr says

The issue is not that the technology doesn’t exist, but that the mining industry hasn’t yet cracked putting all of this together at an industry-wide scale, available to all miners.

You can carry out a project like this or go totally the other way and have a machine-learning or artificial intelligence algorithm in the plant that is constantly reading the incoming feed. These could be based around the block model inputs, or a digital XRF solution, which is able to constantly tweak or adjust the plant settings to the feed specifications. Process plants are generally setup to handle one type of feed. This is usually only tweaked in retrospect or for short periods of time when the mine plan moves into a different mining horizon.

We also have a comminution solution that understands the feed coming in and optimises the mill and power settings to get the optimal grind for flotation, maximising recovery at the back end. While the input is typically set up to be grind quality and hardness for optimal flotation, there is no reason why you couldn’t configure it for, say, sulphides going into an autoclave, tweaking the autoclave heat settings dependent on the feed.

Once that system is set up, it becomes a self-learning algorithm.

Saving operational costs is another pain point for mining companies we always hear about.

We have a solution on our marketplace from Opex Group, which is looking to optimise production while reducing power. Coming from the oil & gas space, this AI algorithm, X-PAS™, offers the operator an opportunity to adjust the settings while still achieving the same required outputs. This is tied to CO2 reduction, as well as power cost reductions.

Opex Group’s AI algorithm, X-PAS, offers the operator an opportunity to adjust the plant settings while still achieving the same required outputs

In mining, the plant is your largest drawer of power, hands down. Generally, if it is not powered on the grid, it is powered by diesel. Opex Group’s solution can save up to 10% of power, which is a significant amount of fuel and CO2.

The solution reads information from your pumps and motors, analyses the planned output of your plant using all the sensor feeds, and tweaks the variables while sustaining the required output. The algorithm slowly learns how you can change configurations to reduce power, while sustaining throughput. This results in lower power costs, without impacting the output.

Importantly, instead of automating the process, it offers the saving to the operator sat in the control room. Operators, in general, are incredibly reluctant to pass over control to an AI algorithm, but when faced with such power saving opportunities, they will often elect to accept such a change.

And, of course, plant maintenance is always on the agenda.

This is where Senseye, which has been used in the car industry by Nissan and the aluminium sector by Alcoa, is useful.

Essentially, this provides predictive maintenance analytics. It is also a no-risk solution with Senseye backed by an insurance guarantee. It is sold on the basis that if you do not earn your money back within the first 12 months, you get an insurance-backed refund.

There could also be openings in the plant for Razor Labs’ predictive maintenance solution, which is currently increasing the uptime of stackers, reclaimers and car dumpers for iron ore miners in the Pilbara.

IM: When it comes to future comminution equipment design, do you expect digitalisation, wear liner innovations, or equipment design to have more of a bearing on operational improvements at mine sites? Phrased another way; is more emphasis being given to refining and extending the life of existing products with digital technologies and wear solutions, than the design of brand-new equipment?

JC: We believe there is always going to be a focus on retrofit and extensions. Once a mill is built, changing the equipment, upgrading, etc is very hard and time consuming. The logistics of getting a new SAG mill to site, for example, are mind boggling. New technology will always come for new sites, but most of the world’s mining capacity is already in place. I would expect most digitalisation to focus on two areas:

  1. Getting more and longer life from all the assets. For example, extending liner life, reducing operating costs and shortening downtime between refits; and
  2. Drawing insights from the existing asset with a view to sweating it. No mill ever stays at nameplate; there is always an increase in production. One or two percent more throughput can put millions onto the bottom line of a company. No mill wants to be a bottleneck in the cycle. In a mine there are always two goals: the mine wants to produce as much ore as possible to put the pressure on the mill, and the mill wants to run as fast as possible to put pressure on the mine.

When it comes to extending liner life, we have a solution worth looking at.

One of the companies we work with out of Australia has an IIoT sensor all tied to wear and liner plates. It is a sensor that is embedded into a wear plate and wears at the same time as the wear plate itself wears. It provides this feedback in real time.

So, instead of the standard routine changeout, it gives you real-time knowledge of what it is happening to these wear parts.

We have a great case study from Glencore where they installed the sensors for around A$200,000 ($152,220) and it saved several million dollars. The payback period was just weeks.

Where I want to take it to the next level is pairing the wear plate monitoring technology on chutes and ore bins and looking into SAG mills and crushers. Relining your SAG mill or primary gyratory crusher is a massive job, which takes a lot of time and cuts your productivity and output by a huge amount. Wear plates are made as consumables, so if you can use 5% less over the space of a year, for instance, there are huge cost and sustainability benefits. You can also more accurately schedule in maintenance, as opposed to reacting to problems or sticking to a set routine.

IM: When compared with the rest of the mine site, how well ‘connected’ is the comminution line? For instance, are gyratory crushers regularly receiving particle size distribution info for the material about to be fed into it so they can ‘tailor’ their operations to the properties of the incoming feed?

JC: Generally, not really. The newer, better financed operations tend to have this. Taking the example above, when designing a plant flowsheet, the close side settings are used. But are they updated on the fly to optimise the plant? Not really. Most processes are designed with a set number of conditions to operate at their maximum.

Most plants dislike, and are not set up to handle, variation in their system, according to Carr

Most plants dislike, and are not set up to handle, variation in their system. They like consistent feed quality and grade to achieve maximum recoveries. Over the next few years, the companies that develop the best machine learning or AI models to run plants in a more real time, reactive way will see the biggest growth. A mill will always say it’s the mine that needs to be consistent, but the nature of geology means that you can never rely on this. As one geologist I knew said, “geology, she is a fickle mistress”.

IM: Where within the comminution section of the process flowsheet do you see most opportunity to achieve mining company sustainability and emission goals related to energy reductions, water use and emissions?

JC: In terms of emissions, at Axora we are actively looking at technology that can help across the entire plant. There was a great paper published in 2016 around this specific topic ‘Energy Consumption in Mining Comminution’ (J Jeswiet & A Szekeres). The authors found that the average mine used 21 kWh per tonne of ore processed. Given diesel produces 270 g per kWh, this means a plant produces 5.6 kg of CO2 per tonne of ore processed, on average. For a 90,000 t/day site, this might represent 510 t of CO2 per day (186,000 t/y), just for processing. To put that into context, you would need 9.3 million trees to offset that level of carbon.

If the industry is serious about lowering its carbon footprint, especially Scope 1 and 2 emissions, then the focus has to come into the process. There are easy wins available from proven solutions in other sectors for companies that want to take them.