Tag Archives: change management

Talisman’s ProdMate evolving from its big data roots

“The wider mining industry might have been talking about the concept of ‘big data’ for less than 10-12 years, but it’s been on our agenda since 1988,” Chris Wilkinson, ProdMate Chief Executive Office, tells IM.

“We were the first to apply flash memory in a non-military application, at the time buying 156 kb flash drives to record data coming off continuous miners.

“We were pioneers of ‘mining’ data for improving operational performance.”

Wilkinson and his team, now within Talisman Partners under the Talisman Technical subsidiary that acquired ProdMate in early 2022, have come a long way in the 35 years since it started in the data and process improvement realm.

The company has expanded from analysis of continuous miner operation in coal mines into developing a four pillar-strong ProdMate integrated production management platform that has applications across all types of operating mines.

These make for a holistic, equipment- and mining method-agnostic platform that, when used in tandem and with an adequate change management process in place, can increase production by up to 40% within six months, according to the company.

ProdMate found its feet in the South African coal market in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then, around 1999, a large international mining corporation came to the company looking to apply the system and change management at one of its mines in South Africa.

“They initially saw a 44% increase in production in the first year and continued driving process improvement and KPI analysis over a further three years to achieve an 80% production improvement and world-class productivity,” Wilkinson said of this mine-site installation.

Such results – with a high-profile client – put ProdMate on the map in South Africa, with around 85% of the domestic coal market eventually taking up its use.

The step-up in performance at numerous mines was also a reflection of ProdMate’s ongoing evolution, according to Wilkinson, moving from a hardware and software company to one focused on powerful software that could be applied on all equipment and mining methods, regardless of vendor.

“We soon realised that it didn’t matter how many sensors on the equipment you had feeding you data, you still needed humans to tell you things about the mining environment to provide that required operational context,” he said.

This led to the development of mobile device software to report, in real time, what the machines were doing. This has since become the ProdNote mobile device software that makes up one of the four modules within ProdMate.

A planning board followed soon after, providing an alternative to the Excel-based reporting that miners had been using. This Excel alternative creates a digital shift plan and targets that all team members can follow. Combining digital planning with machine data process analytics and actual production data, as well as task completion and downtime recorded in real time via the ProdNote mobile device software, completed the “closed loop” digital management system.

The MOS Meeting Manager was the last input to complete the puzzle: “What we felt was missing was an electronic meeting manager that could help clients track issue resolution through action tracking across the mines hierarchy of MOS meetings, making accountability and resolution of problems simpler to manage,” Wilkinson said. “Many clients implemented MOS systems but mine management were concerned that people spent too much time in meetings and not enough time supervising their core functions. We auto linked information to the correct meetings, created data analytics to help make meetings more efficient and allowed clients to track organisational efficiency.”

As it stands today, customers can pick and choose between all of these modules, integrating with any other software platforms they may be using to improve and track their operations.

“The real power of this is when you integrate it all together,” Wilkinson said. “When all four modules speak directly to each other, and to any other complementary systems, there is a clear cause and effect that allows for accelerated and effective decision making.”

It goes further than this, with an embedded digital twin allowing companies to sketch out theoretical scenarios if, for example, a critical production machine goes down.

“This digital twin keeps running and automatically updates, allowing the operation to see what effect this outage has on the mine schedule,” Wilkinson said.

All this information comes with a digital record to allow for not only regulatory reporting, but also ongoing learnings and knowledge transfer.

“At any point, shift managers can go back into the data log and carry out a post-shift review of what happened in that particular moment,” Wilkinson said. “This is priceless for new employees as they can follow the same path that resolved a similar situation last time.”

There are also integrations with the ProdMate system – think fleet management, personnel proximity, air quality station systems, etc – some more advanced applications already benefit from.

Wilkinson sees further functionality being added to ProdMate in the future, too.

“We’re no longer in the big data realm; data paralysis is a real thing and the biggest cause of falling ROI on software systems,” Wilkinson said. “We’re now all about information transfer and utilisation; making sure only valuable data gets to decision makers or analysis systems.

“I think we’re just scratching the surface with this as an industry and ProdMate will continue to evolve to integrate with new solutions that provide valuable information, not simply data.”

Procon laying the change management groundwork for mining tech adoption

Canada-based Procon has been implementing tried and tested technology for its employees and end customers for decades, resulting in improved operational safety and productivity outcomes.

It is now looking to make the leap and adopt new solutions from the mining technology sector, according to CEO John McVey, with the contract miner already into “phase three” of an “Industrial Supervisor training program”, focused on Procon’s front-line supervision and incorporating change management associated with this adoption.

Speaking to IM on the side lines of the HxGN LIVE Global 2023 event, in Las Vegas, and ahead of his panel appearance on Wednesday (in a panel titled ‘Down Under: Standing Up to the Challenges of Underground Mining’), McVey said the established contract mining model needed to change to accelerate the uptake of new technology in the market.

“Inherently when we bid for work it has to be competitively tendered in order to try and win a new contract,” he said. “You aren’t typically able to add many bells and whistles on if you want to win the work.

“This likely has to change at some point, with mining companies understanding the benefits that come with rolling out and applying these new technology ‘bells and whistles’.”

Procon has seen glimpses of an evolution – McVey references the introduction of battery-electric trucks at the Brucejack mine in British Columbia, Canada, where Procon is working, plus the use of autonomous load and haul equipment at the Kittilä operation in Finland (where Procon previously carried out shaft work) – but he said that today these were the exception, not the rule.

“Where we may also see more mining technology being adopted in the future is with these junior developers striving for higher ESG (environmental, social and governance) goals,” McVey said. “These clean, green metal developers – due to these ESG aims – are often backed by different types of investors that are less risk averse, or less tainted by the project capital and schedule blowouts experienced in previous commodity cycles.”

McVey’s appearance at HxGN LIVE Global 2023 this week is centred around finding out how the mining technology provider can help Procon’s workers and its clients underground, with safety- and productivity-led solutions coming high up the contract miner’s agenda.

“There is very rarely opposition to bringing in any initiatives that will enhance safety underground,” McVey said. “As a result, it is obvious to start here.”

When it comes to productivity, the company is interested in finding out how it could potentially deploy the Production Optimiser™ solution at certain sites. This advanced mining technology, developed by Minnovare, which Hexagon’s Mining division acquired last year, improves drill and blast efficiency and productivity in underground hard-rock mines by reducing collar deviation and, as a result, delivering superior setup accuracy at the collar. This increases the number of holes drilled to within tolerance at the toe, achieving optimum blasts and reducing dilution, according to Minnovare.

Production Optimiser has been deployed across the mining world, including at sites operated by contract miners Pit N Portal (owned by Emeco Group) and Barminco (part of Perenti).

In addition to productivity and safety, McVey is conscious the graduates coming through the pipeline that may enter the mining sector want to interact with the ‘new technology’ they have become accustomed to.

“They are used to playing computer games, interacting with apps and using technology on a daily basis,” he said. “If we are to encourage them to join the mining sector, we need to adopt some of this to increase our appeal.”

Here McVey mentioned the in-house development of an app, PSAFE, to log all incidents underground. This allows Procon employees to upload photos and reports in close to real time, to enhance reporting and analysis of these incidents.

“While a worker may be somewhat reluctant to write up a report after a long shift underground,” McVey said. “The app – which we are in the process of rolling out across all our sites – is enabling them to capture important information almost immediately, particularly ‘near-miss’ reporting which is critical in avoiding potential hazards and incidents.”

Again, this comes back to the change management piece that is so important to any new technology being adopted and used successfully.

McVey is hoping to learn from other mining companies and contractors at HxGN LIVE Global 2023 about how they are achieving ‘buy in’ from their employees for this new technology, to enhance Procon’s own change management processes and reduce the risk associated with applying new solutions at their sites.

Sandvik underlines interoperability policy for mining’s digitalisation journey

The COVID-19 pandemic means less people in the mining area, working to achieve the same output; this makes digitalisation no longer a nice-to-have but a vital efficiency mechanism for survival, according to Niel McCoy, Business Line Manager for Automation and Digitalisation at Sandvik Mining & Rock Technology.

McCoy says the challenge when it comes to applying digitalisation successfully is often getting the ‘vision’ right from the outset.

“Most mining companies have for years been working to digitalise their operations, but the difficulty is to know exactly what this process is meant to achieve and where managers want their mines to be in the future,” McCoy says. “Bringing in new technologies means fundamentally changing the way your operation runs, so you need to be ready for the change management that this will require.”

The result is many mines still struggling to develop and apply digital strategies, the company says.

Effective digitalisation, McCoy says, involves nothing less than moving away from the traditional style of management. It means bringing everything towards a more centralised point.

“Digitalisation allows the whole underground mining operation to become visual – as if the ‘roof’ has been lifted off the mine – and to be managed from an operational management centre,” he says. “This gives management a view of all operations in real time, and the ability to optimise the various processes.”

Before any digital implementation can begin, the goal must be clear in everyone’s minds – a picture of what their ‘mine of the future’ looks like, he says. This will then guide the roadmap to be followed for adoption of digital tools.

“Without an end in mind, this will become just another initiative,” McCoy says. “Operations people will be unable to contextualise what the digital solutions mean within the big picture, and how it will improve their day-to-day activities and outcomes. This is mainly due to the data not being used in day-to-day management and decision making. It can never be a ‘side project’.”

McCoy emphasises that digital solutions are not just for managers to see more clearly what is happening on their mines; it is also vital for the people on the ground to run their operations more effectively and efficiently. As a result, there needs to be full buy-in from the start if the intended efficiencies are to be realised in practice.

“The only way of making mining operations more efficient is to understand what is happening and where, and to react accordingly as quickly as possible,” he says. “One of the main shortcomings with traditional, hard copy reporting methods on mines is that it simply takes too long for managers to sort through the raw reports from each shift and identify problems in time to make a meaningful intervention.”

This means that operations can never be properly optimised, according to Sandvik. Digital tools play a valuable role in addressing this challenge, helping mines achieve their key performance indicators.

“A good example of a key performance indicator in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is this: how do we get the best out of a reduced workforce?” he says. “Once a mine has clarified how it plans to approach this, it can start selecting the appropriate digital tools to achieve its goals.”

Niel McCoy, Business Line Manager for Automation and Digitalisation at Sandvik Mining & Rock Technology

Change management is at the heart of the process, based on short interval control and process management, according to the company, with Sandvik Mining & Rock Technology’s core focus in digitalisation being process management and optimisation, through its OptiMine® product.

There are five different modules within OptiMine that we offer customers, depending on their digital requirements,” McCoy says. “Further digital solutions are also available, relating to aspects including telemetry of non-Sandvik equipment, face utilisation, ventilation monitoring, personnel tracking and ventilation-on-demand through our Newtrax platform.”

McCoy says Sandvik’s experience in this field is substantial, demonstrated by the fact that OptiMine has been installed at about 66 sites worldwide.

He also emphasises that, while industry technology providers have their own specific focus areas, mines need to ensure the different systems integrate effectively.

“As a manager on a mine, you don’t want to have dozens of different login points and dashboards to manage your operational data,” he says. “Rather, you want just a few key interfaces from which you can gather the overview you need. That is why it is so important to have your digital vision and understand what solutions you will require to achieve this vision.”

Interoperability is, therefore, a vital aspect of this digitalisation planning – this is, again, an area Sandvik has been working on, with many of its digital solutions now able to be integrated into platforms supplied by other vendors.

“Sandvik Mining & Rock Technology’s leading interoperability policy commits the company to working with any other type of information system that a customer has on site,” it says. “This is to achieve the effective transfer of data between systems, to make it more useful for the customer.”

McCoy added: “We are very proud of this policy, and are one of the first original equipment manufacturers to make such a policy public. It shows our understanding of the bigger digital picture and our role within it – aimed at ensuring that the customer is empowered to use their data the way they choose.”