Tag Archives: Axora

Teck, Kinross and Vale join Axora’s mining and metals digital transformation community

Axora says it has launched the world’s first digital transformation community for the energy and metals and mining sectors.

The Axora Community intends to connect industry innovators, share the latest market research on key digital trends and initiate thought-provoking debates to help solve some of the biggest challenges facing these industries today, Axora said.

“Professionals in these two sectors face some of the world’s most dangerous environments while having to safely satisfy production demand and hit sustainability targets,” Ritz Steytler, CEO of Axora (pictured), said at the launch event in London last night. “By harnessing digital innovation, paired with knowledge sharing and collaboration, industry leaders can ensure worker safety, reduce environmental impact, and improve return on investment. That’s why we started the Axora Community.”

Axora’s two recent reports, ‘Innovation Forecast: Mining and Metals’ and ‘Innovation Forecast: Energy’, revealed that 99% of senior decision makers at energy and metals and mining firms across the world needed a global digital transformation community.

The Axora Community will include metals and mining, and energy industry professionals as well as technology providers, associations and academics. It has been set up with the help of 10 founder members and senior professionals from leading companies including Teck Resources, Kinross Gold, Vale and ArcelorMittal Europe.

Peter Stegmaier, Founding Member, Axora Community and Chairman, CLQ Global, said: “The energy and mining sectors have embraced digital transformation for some time, but there is still much room for improvement to ensure they fully realise the benefits of key growth drivers like artificial intelligence, advanced analytics and automation.

“For the first time, industry innovators will have a forum for information on digital solutions, can gain insights into how other industries are tackling similar challenges and learn best practice from their peers.”

The Axora Community intends to host exclusive webinars, invite-only roundtables, and access to live Q&A sessions with industry experts around the world. It will initially focus on the metals and mining sector and will expand to cover the energy sector at the end of this year.

Axora calls itself the digital solutions marketplace for industrial innovators, offering industrial companies a service to discover, buy and sell digital innovations for improved safety, sustainability and efficiency across their operations.

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.”

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.