Tag Archives: interoperability

Amira Industry 4.0 interoperability project highlights ‘digital mine’ opportunities

Independent global not for profit organisation, Amira, says its global members are set to reap significant benefits from the finalisation of the Industry 4.0 interoperability project P1208 undertaken in Perth, Western Australia.

The Interoperability Enablement for Natural Resources project concluded in November and was sponsored by miners South32, Fortescue Metals Group and Gold Fields Australia.

The Amira project, which was conducted at the University of Western Australia’s Energy & Resources Digital Interoperability Industry 4.0 (UWA ERDi I4.0) TestLab, was designed to realise “the digital mine”, which requires mature interoperability standards to improve information flow.

The project ran multiple proofs-of-concept using interoperability standards (ISA-95/IEC 62264 and B2MML v7.0 (plus process centric event extensions)) that were originally developed to support the manufacturing industry.

These standards had benefited from many years of work (originally with contributions from BHP and continued by ETP and vendors such as RPMGlobal) in enhancing the standards to support mining requirements.

The resulting updated standards were used in P1208 as a means of exchanging information between common mining software packages from Datamine, ABB, AVEVA, RPMGlobal, Wenco and Manufacturing Intelligence. Each of these vendors played a critical part in the project’s success, according to Amira.

Managing Director at Enterprise Transformation Partners (ETP) and the P1208 Project Lead, John Kirkman, said the project was highly successful, demonstrating manufacturing standards could be adapted and used across various mining methods and commodities.

“In terms of benefits, miners should first note ‘interoperability’ is simply a means to an end, with that end being optimal management of their operations,” Kirkman said.

“By enhancing the core specialist software packages used by geologists, mine planners, mine execution/control, materials tracking and maintenance personnel, etc to work together as if they were always engineered to do so, you are thereby implementing the cornerstone of automating and optimising the processes used to manage your mining operations.

“This is just one of the reasons why interoperability is one of only three core pillars of the Industry 4.0 vision as the idea of achieving highly automated and optimised operations without interoperability is simply not viable.

“Industry 4.0 also recognise ISA-95/IEC 62264 as the standard for supporting modular operations management interoperability, while also recognising OPC-UA as the standard for level 2 (machine/process control) interoperability.”

Benefits of Industry 4.0

Kirkman said Industry 4.0 solutions remove a significant amount of manual effort that are currently an accepted part of the mining process.

“This, in turn, increases data quality by eliminating manual entry errors and aligning semantics, improves timeliness of access to new information and enables users to spend more of their time on the quality of their work,” he said.

“This enables the automated capabilities of the software packages to be fully utilised and opens opportunities for the vendors to develop additional high value automated decision support capabilities within their software packages.”

During the course of the P1208 project, this was most clearly and broadly demonstrated via the materials inventory tracking/management software packages, which were able to automatically receive material movement events (from fleet management systems and fixed plant) and material sample analysis results events (from a Lab Information Management System) and update block and stockpile quantities and grade, then send the updated block and stockpile quantities and grade to a mine planning software packages and data warehouse, all without any user intervention.

“With respect to major successes, the fact that we have been able to demonstrate that standards exist that are able to be applied to mining software packages that can exchange information regardless of what commodity you are mining, by whatever mining method, using whatever equipment, whether you are an open pit or underground mine and also supporting multiple areas of the value chain (ie geology, drilling, blasting, mining, processing, railing, port and shipping) is significant,” Kirkman said.

“With P1208, we have successfully demonstrated that standards do exist and that they can be applied to mining with great success and that miners can now begin to include the application of interoperability in their improvement/transformation strategies and, as a result, maximise their return on investment from future technology projects.”

Interoperability in action

Kirkman said this was exciting news for mining companies looking to make technology investments that have a much higher likelihood of achieving a meaningful return on investment.

Project sponsor Gold Fields Australia took part in the AMIRA P1208 demonstrations sessions at the UWA ERDi I4.0 TestLab in Perth, Australia, recently, examining how interoperability in the mine plan, scheduling, execution, and materials and tracking functions can improve performance.

One of the sponsors said: “I don’t think many mining companies really appreciate the magnitude of the inefficiencies and lost opportunities that exist in a typical mine as a result of systems not working together; I think it’s almost just accepted as we have no other choice today.

“The Amira project has really shone a light on this area and demonstrated how interoperability can significantly improve the way of working across the business.

“To witness schedules being published from one vendor’s software and being received by multiple other vendors’ software, and the same again with actuals and inventory balance updates in real-time, is quite exciting and even more so when you consider that none of the vendors worked directly together; they just applied the standard interfaces to their software under the guidance of the ETP/ERDi team and it all works.”

The ETP team and various vendors involved in P1208 are already implementing these solutions into an open-pit and an underground mine further validating the work, with case studies likely to be produced through 2022.

The ERDi TestLab has noted a recent uptick in interest from both Australia-based and overseas mining companies, which bodes well for the vendors whom can now take advantage of their investment in interoperable solutions.

The ERDi team has already commenced work to extend these solutions across asset management and maintenance, fleet management/autonomous haulage solutions to machines and open process control interoperability via integration of OPAS-based solutions from the Coalition of Open Process Automation (COPA), who have together built the world’s first commercially available OPAS-based control system.

Project findings

Some of the key findings from the project include:

  • There were no instances of an information type required by the end customer or other systems not already catered for by the B2MML v7.0 + process centric events schemas;
  • All vendors were able to enhance their software to support the standards successfully;
  • Software performance would likely be the limiting factor in how much data could be exchanged, not the standard itself, which can be addressed by vendors through various approaches;
  • That being able to receive accurate, real-time information from other systems exposed opportunities for vendors to implement new and advanced features that would not have been useful in a manually updated solution;
  • Though the standard supported all requirements and was able to be implemented by vendors, a number of areas were identified in which the standard could be improved to make it much easier for vendors to implement, maintain and update over time as well ensure it is sufficiently explicit to certify products. ERDi has already kicked off work to address these improvement opportunities;
  • Education is likely the greatest barrier to adoption today. As these Industry 4.0 approaches and opportunities are not yet commonplace in the mining industry, miners will need to make an investment in upskilling their workforce to be able to successfully implement and take advantage of these solutions. Industry 4.0 education and workforce enablement has also been identified by platform I4.0 and the world economic forum as major factors in successful industry 4.0 adoption; and
  • It is possible to establish standards management and governance processes to enable more rapid and frequent update of standards.

Booyco Electronics looks for CPS, PDS tech integration with Ramjack tie-up

South Africa-based Booyco Electronics has signed up to a collaboration with Ramjack Technology Solutions to help mines effectively integrate its collision prevention system (CPS) and proximity detection system (PDS) solutions with other technologies effectively, in the interests of greater safety and productivity.

“Technology is changing the way that key technical services are provided to mines,” Anton Lourens, CEO of Booyco Electronics, says. “The world is becoming a smaller place, and the value that service providers deliver to mining customers is no longer determined by a corporation’s size.”

Technological specialisation now demands expertise, skill sets and hardware that extend far beyond what single multinational companies can provide, according to Lourens. This invariably leads to silos of expertise developing on mines that require bridging.

This is the reason for partnering with technology integrator Ramjack Technology Solutions, he says.

The two companies have already collaborated informally on a significant deep-level gold mining project in South Africa, and are excited by the prospects that this work has opened up.

“With South Africa’s mine safety legislation being very advanced in terms of requiring Level 9 compliance for collision avoidance, our partnership can offer considerable overall value to mines across the world,” Lourens says.

According to Mike Jackson, President and CEO of Ramjack Technology Solutions, Booyco Electronics fills an important space as a best-of-breed technology provider in a critical component of mine safety.

“Our role as a systems integrator is to help mines get more value from their chosen production and safety technologies,”  Jackson says.

The company does this in two main ways, he says; horizontal integration bridges the gaps between the technology ‘silos’ on mines, while vertical integration takes the process right from instruments up to platform level.

Jackson highlights that the interoperability of leading technologies is the optimal way to achieve the “mine of future”. This allows mines to take up the best technologies available and ensure they work together on their on-site platform.

“Technology providers like Booyco and Ramjack have the advantage of learning from the experience of many mines – not just one,” he says. “This gives our customers significant added value, as they can benefit from the learnings that have taken place elsewhere, without bearing the cost of developing that experience on their own.”

Epiroc and Combitech continue to break new ground in mine automation

After three years of collaboration, Epiroc and Combitech’s traffic management solution for autonomous loaders at underground mines is coming to fruition.

In 2017, Epiroc and Combitech started to work on this technological leap. Together, they have combined technology from Epiroc and SAAB’s civilian product portfolio with knowledge of the way traffic management is to be systematised and developed.

At the end of the same year, a prototype, or ‘proof of concept’, was delivered and evaluated in Epiroc’s test mine outside Örebro, Sweden.

Eighteen months later, in spring 2019, the solution was installed and used at an Australia gold mine.

This solution is called Epiroc Scooptram Automation Total and is included in Epiroc’s 6th Sense offering.

“This solution, in which autonomous machines can perform complete assignments and interact with each other in a shared area, is much sought after within the mining industry,” Robert Raschperger, Consultant for Epiroc and Combitech’s Product Development Manager, said. “It is a matter of being able to create an even flow of material, avoid locking between machines in production and move employees away from an unsafe environment.”

The solution’s driver is a proprietary module known as the Traffic Management System (TMS). It allows machines to share roads, service locations and loading and dumping sites without collisions or locking events.

The module is generic inasmuch as it is applicable to other autonomous solutions, whereby machines, drones and trucks are able to independently perform pre-defined tasks, eg travelling from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’, and depositing a load.

Epiroc’s strategy is an “open automation system” that means other machine manufacturers can be integrated into the solution, such as integrating a remotely operated MacLean water cannon into the Epiroc automation fleet at Newcrest Mining’s Cadia East operation in New South Wales, Australia.

As well as the TMS module, there is the Fleet Management System (FMS) to automate assignment and resource management so that the mine operator can focus on the work to be performed, eg transporting 1,600 t from point ‘a’ and dumping it at point ‘b’. The system decides which machines to be used, when they should operate and which routes they should take.

The FMS module is based on the SAFE (Situational Awareness For Enhanced security) platform, which has been developed within the SAAB group.

The TMS and FMS modules are integrated into the mine’s overall production management, so work orders are received, implemented and reported in order of priority, while, at the same time, the system attends to other machinery and parts of the production flow, eg ore crushers and ore transportation systems.

Mattias Pettersson, Global Portfolio Manager Loaders, Epiroc’s Underground division, said: “Interoperability and openness have been key words in the development of Epiroc’s automation system and, thanks to this, the collaboration with a partner like Combitech has also worked extremely well.

“Besides the technical advancements made and the new functions, which we have succeeded to develop in record time, I’m almost more impressed with our collaboration and partnership. The future of digitalisation and automation development depends on our success in integrating different systems – where collaboration between people and organisations is just as vital as the technical aspects.”

Raschperger added: “A key to our success is that our team has different skillsets. Some of us are good at traffic-management logic, ie sending data and coordinating traffic patterns. Others are good at acquainting themselves with end-user problems, work culture and human-to-machine interaction. We also have sound expertise in development of systems so they meet the stringent demands around availability in a mine, typically 24/7, plus how modern software development should be set up and managed.

“It’s enjoyable seeing how knowledge can be used in new ways, and what results are attainable through collaboration.”

Epiroc’s Scooptram Automation Total allows machine operators to carry out remote work safely in a control room above ground level, where they can share the overall situation in real time and carry out tasks that still call for a human being’s experience and precision. The operators have good insight into what is happening within the production environment and can take over machines as and when necessary to carry out non-automated tasks.

The latest addition to the solution is the option of “easy control” of the security system that protects employees from harm if they accidentally enter the autonomous production area, Epiroc says.

“Putting it simply, various sections and passageways are permitted to be closed or opened for autonomous operation, allowing the mining operator to send in manned machines without stopping autonomous production any more than is necessary,” the company explained. “The function also supports smooth check-in and check-out of autonomous or remote-controlled machinery.”

Raschperger concluded: “With this solution we are breaking new ground, as we are bringing manual and autonomous operations closer to each other. A fully-autonomous mine is still a long way off, but the latest addition to the solution allows mining companies to actually proceed towards autonomous operation and increases the degree of utilisation of the investment in infrastructure, machinery and employees.”

This is an edited version of an Epiroc story that first appeared here: https://www.epiroc.com/en-uk/newsroom/2020/the-route-to-an-autonomous-mine

Roy Hill backs interoperability developments with ERDi TestLab membership

Iron ore miner Roy Hill has become the latest member of the University of Western Australia’s (UWA) Energy & Resources Digital Interoperability Industry 4.0 (ERDi i4.0) TestLab.

Roy Hill is committed to the development of interoperability within the resources industry and recently appointed Michael Waller to a new role – Interoperability Manager – to lead the company’s strategy and engagement, according to the TestLab.

In the few short weeks since Michael’s appointment, Roy Hill’s interoperability approach has progressed at a rapid rate, with Waller spearheading the establishment of a collaborative interoperability project within the TestLab, it added.

This new project will be sponsored by ERDi TestLab founding partner METS Ignited, and centres around interoperability in the mobile equipment execution management and control technology space across both manual and automated equipment, it said.

“We are thrilled to be working with Roy Hill and the other participants on this exciting project, more details of which will be announced soon,” it added.

Roy Hill’s interoperability streak was made clear earlier this year when it signed an agreement with Epiroc and ASI Mining to deliver a fully automated solution for the iron ore mining operation’s mixed fleet of 77 haul trucks.

Other companies to recently sign up to the TestLab include Trevali, RPMGlobal and ABB.

ABB tackles ‘open automation’ with UWA, ETP, AMIRA Global and Gold Fields

ABB says it has linked with the University of Western Australia’s (UWA) new Energy & Resources Digital Interoperability Industry 4.0 (ERDi i4.0) TestLab, run by Enterprise Transformation Partners (ETP), to advance Industry 4.0 open process automation standards.

This includes collaboration on AMIRA Global’s P1208 Interoperability Enablement for Natural Resources project, which is designed to realise the future digital mine. It aims to develop and implement interoperability standards for mine planning, mine scheduling and execution so equipment and applications for mine operations become ‘plug and play’. Building on the University of Western Australia I4.0 ERDi Test Lab (pictured), this initiative will enable an off-site test laboratory to evaluate efficacy of interoperability of technology without disrupting ongoing mining activities, according to ABB.

Separate to the AMIRA project, ABB is also working closely with ETP on an integrated systems project at Gold Fields’ Granny Smith mine, 740 km northeast of Perth, Western Australia, one of the largest and highest producing gold operations in the country.

The project will enhance ABB Ability™ Operations Management System (OMS) Platform – Fleet Management Software Module to support the latest in reliable messaging and Industry 4.0 interoperability standards; ISA-95 (IEC 62264) via B2MML V7.0, ABB said. This advancement will enable the mine to connect and coordinate mine operators, workforce, equipment and all mining activities in real-time, from face preparation to crusher, according to the company.

“In 2019, we launched the Integrated Systems project to increase production throughput of the Granny Smith gold mine,” Michael Place, Technical Service Manager, Gold Fields Australia, said. “To achieve the objective of a fully-connected mine, we are working with ABB and ETP to build an integrated business process and system architecture that will enable visibility of operational activities in near real-time via automated information exchange between various mining systems.

“The system architecture has been designed to allow deployment across various operations, both open pit and underground. This deployment will be the major phase of the technology strategy for the Granny Smith mine and will be a pilot for integrated platforms across Gold Fields Australia, which aims to create one of the most innovative, digitally connected mines in the world. This project and agreement will be key to achieving this.”

ETP Managing Director, John Kirkman, said: “ABB’s investment, both in financial terms as well as time, together with their expertise, is critical for this project to support the re-engineering of products that are often required to deliver a reliable, performant and standards compliant software package.

“The performance requirements of a software package that exchanges and processes granular events with rich information in real-time, when compared to a software package designed for periodical manual entry, are like comparing chalk and cheese, and that’s where ABB plays a big role.”

Stuart Cowie, Head of Industrial Automation Process Industries, ABB Australia, added: “Industry 4.0 and digital transformation are huge opportunities for the Australian mining industry with automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence generating insights and accelerating greater productivity and efficiency.

“This underlines ABB’s commitment to ensuring Industry 4.0 concepts influence its product roadmaps into the future, and demonstrates the significant value that can be delivered to customers through interoperability and automation across both processes and systems. It will give ABB valuable insights into digital transformation and Industry 4.0 concepts for mining. Through our work with the ERDi TestLab, the OMS platform has become an even more powerful tool with reliable real-time access to operational data through ISA95 standardised messages.”

As part of POC 1, ABB will showcase ABB Ability Operations Management System and Fleet Management System software to AMIRA P1208 project sponsors, automatically exchanging information with scheduling and materials tracking software packages via i4.0 standard interfaces.

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.”

Komatsu creates group focused on automation interoperability

To maximise the opportunities and potential that exists with furthering automation in mining, Modular Mining’s parent company, Komatsu, recently created the Komatsu Technology Interoperability Center of Excellence.

This group, based in Tucson, Arizona, focuses entirely on driving product strategy and developing roadmaps for technology and automation. Some of its recent work is geared towards an interoperability-focused ISO standard that, it says, will help make interoperability of automated equipment a reality.

Komatsu explained: “These in-development strategies and roadmaps aim to include the full range of mining equipment across all original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) within the Komatsu family, including both surface and underground equipment, and leverage the original technology manufacturers including Modular Mining, MineWare, and Immersive Technologies.”

The new Technology Interoperability group is focused on providing customers with a high-quality portfolio of state-of-the-art, integration-ready technologies and automated systems for all types of mining, according to Komatsu.

“The group’s vision centres on delivering innovative mine automation solutions that exceed customer expectations and provide a step change in safety and productivity,” it said. “Recognising that each mine has its own unique requirements and that customer operations span the various levels of being autonomous-ready, Komatsu is committed to developing solutions across the automation spectrum, including offerings specific to: truck spotting, assisted operation (including active blade control), autonomous drilling, and more.”

The pace of the technological evolution in the consumer world is driving mining’s evolution, Komatsu says.

“We’re seeing faster adoption of automation technologies and enablers at mining operations worldwide. Automation capabilities in the consumer automotive industry, including the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems that provide lane assistance and adaptive cruise control, are becoming standard systems on new cars. The underlying technologies of these automation capabilities, including controllers, sensors, algorithms, and artificial intelligence (AI), among others, are becoming more mature, thus opening opportunities for adoption into the mining industry.”

Effective mining automation solutions require interoperability, as most mines have a mixed fleet of equipment. To support that customer need, Komatsu says it is leading the development of an ISO standard that will help make interoperability of automated equipment a reality.

“Together with Modular Mining’s OEM agnosticism and a focus on both safety and sustainability, we are confident these standards will support the delivery of improved solutions to meet customer and societal needs,” the company said.

Many miners have started to digitalise their processes, but the greatest optimisation occurs when silos are collectively broken down, data is shared and solutions are integrated, the company says.

“To further this effort, Modular Mining is working towards integration with third-party technology partners, which will allow the company’s IntelliMine solutions and third-party systems (such as mine planning and payload monitoring systems, among others) to seamlessly share data with one another.

“Access to this previously unavailable third-party data will enable Modular Mining to streamline overall operational efficiency by enhancing the existing decision-making algorithms within a site’s IntelliMine technologies.”

The advances in industrial computing and algorithm developments also allow AI and machine learning to be pushed to the ‘edge’ of onboard equipment, enabling automatic identification and corrective action for previously unsolvable production, maintenance, and safety related problems, according to Komatsu.

“As the role of automation in the mining industry continues to increase, so too does the excitement from Komatsu’s Technology Interoperability group,” the company said. “In the past year, our teams have had the privilege of working with many customers and internal groups to develop a new strategy and roadmap that will help drive future offerings for our customers. We are excited to continue applying advanced technology, equipment, and services to help support the mining industry’s exciting and necessary evolution to meet the demands of society for the long haul.”

Newtrax tackles data silo issues with launch of IoT hub

Newtrax Technologies, a leading provider of safety and productivity systems for underground hard-rock mines, has used the backdrop of the Sandvik Digitalization in Mining event, in Brisbane, Australia, to launch its brand new IoT Hub.

The Newtrax IoT Hub is the first AI-powered data aggregation platform, which enables the mining industry to connect all IoT devices into a single data repository, according to the company.

“It connects datasets and information in real time with a wide choice of software applications, enabling transparency of the mining processes and proactive decision making,” the company, which was acquired by Sandvik earlier this year, said.

This hub provides every mining company – big or small – with the ability to build their own “data lake” through industry-standardised application programming interfaces (APIs), according to the company. “This ensures mining companies can pick and choose from virtually any application they want and build the best solution architecture for their unique requirements,” Newtrax said.

Newtrax told IM that there are several applications inside the IoT hub including:

  • Mobile Telemetry Solution data;
  • “AI-ready”;
  • Scheduler;
  • Task Management; and
  • Asset Health.

While the digital mining tech leader has focused, to date, on monitoring and providing insights on people, machines and the environment in underground mines, it told IM that the IoT hub was ready to also host “any process plant solutions”. Newtrax is not intending to build such a solution though and would, instead, happily integrate with other vendors that already had one, the company confirmed.

Alexandre Cervinka, President & CEO of Newtrax, said the company has seen throughout the industry plenty of examples of separate vendors selling IoT devices that only work with their own software platform, leading to the generation of “islands of data”.

He continued: “However, the real power of data can only be unlocked with the customers’ ability to aggregate the data together to make insights that would not normally be seen. That is where the Newtrax Iot Hub comes in.”

Newtrax, which is run as an independent business unit within the division Rock Drills and Technologies in the business area Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, says it is committed to having an open architecture and will continue to interface with other vendors in the mining digital ecosystem.

The Newtrax news comes only a day after Sandvik said it was opening up its own automation platform for underground loaders and trucks to the wider mining industry through its AutoMine Access API system.

Sandvik unlocks ‘automation’s full potential’ with AutoMine Access API

Sandvik has opened its AutoMine® platform to the rest of the industry with what it says is the mining sector’s first interoperability platform for autonomous underground loaders and trucks.

The AutoMine Access API delivers on the company’s promise made earlier this year at Goldcorp’s #DisruptMining event and is the next step in Sandvik’s continued journey to “set the industry standard for mine automation and digitalisation”, it said.

The application programming interface (API) gives mines the power to connect non-Sandvik equipment to AutoMine – moving underground mining digitalisation even further, it said.

This interoperability move comes just over a year since

Patrick Murphy, President Rock Drills & Technologies, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, said: “As a world leader in underground automation, we have a responsibility to make this game-changing technology easier to implement for the mining industry.

“While we think customers will achieve the highest performance with Sandvik equipment, we recognise the need to unlock automation’s full potential for all equipment regardless of manufacturer. Customers with mixed fleets will now have the full power of AutoMine behind them.”

The AutoMine Access API is a standard set of pre-defined interfaces for connecting third-party loaders and trucks to AutoMine. This means a mixed fleet of underground loaders and trucks can now be managed and controlled with one seamless system.

“An API is a set of functions and procedures that allows the creation of applications that access the features or data of an operating system, application, or other service,” Sandvik said, adding that the third-party equipment is required to meet the AutoMine safety standards.

The API is another step in Sandvik’s journey to drive a digital ecosystem that makes mining smarter, safer and more productiv, it said.

In 2018, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology released its Interoperability Policy outlining how Sandvik systems can communicate within a digital ecosystem including data accessibility, fleet data compatibility, data rights and control, and data privacy.

The momentum continued in 2019 with the acquisition of Newtrax, a leader in wireless IoT connectivity for underground hard-rock mining, and the announcement that My Sandvik, Sandvik’s telemetry solution for machine health and productivity data, would also be available for non-Sandvik equipment.

“Sandvik has been leading the market in underground digitalisation for years, with thousands of pieces of equipment around the world connected to our digital technology,” Murphy said. “As more customers embark on their digital journeys, interoperability will be a requirement. We are proud to leverage our experience to drive digitalisation further in the mining industry.”

The mining industry’s guiding hand

Ahead of the WA Mining Conference & Exhibition, in Perth, Western Australia, IM spoke with Michelle Ash, Chair of the Global Mining Guidelines Group (GMG), on mining guidelines, the industry’s rate of technology adoption, automation and, of course, interoperability.

Given that Ash is due to sit on a panel discussion titled, ‘The future generation of mining – who, what, when and where’ at the event on October 15, the conversation was very much forward looking.

IM: The development of mining guidelines has been a big focus for you in your work with GMG. Outside of the existing working groups GMG already has in place, where, in the next three to five years, do you see the need for future industry guidelines to ensure mining companies and their employees can leverage new technology?

MA: Our mission at GMG is to work collaboratively with industry and help speed up its rates of change. The guidelines are one of our main products, but we are involved in two others.
One is education where we bring the mining industry (mining companies, suppliers, consultants, academics/academic institutions, regulators and governments) together on topics. Blockchain is a good example of that; we’ve had our members raising the use of blockchain as an issue for the last couple of years – some have not known what the use cases might look like or even the full capabilities of the technology.

An example of the second product is what we have recently carried out in the tailings dam space…where we initially looked at who was doing what in the public arena worldwide. From this, we created a database of that activity with the intention that our members should, first, engage with work that is already being conducted. We are now trying to think through how we codify that data. In this regard, part of the way we will speed up innovation in the mining industry is not only through collaboration, but also making sure we leverage industry work that has already been completed.

Then on the guidelines, we have covered battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), automation and communications systems. We’re currently going through the process of devising a guideline on interoperability and functional safety, too. In the next few months, we will start working with our members to define what ones to pursue from 2020 onwards.

IM: What might these future guidelines look like?

MA: At our leadership summit this year, we will be talking about climate change and how that is going to impact the mining industry. Thinking about the workforce of the future is another potential avenue for future guidelines. That is on top of some of the more futuristic topics like blockchain provenance tracking, changes to business models, etc.

IM: What is likely to push most mining companies into increasing their uptake of new and disruptive technology? Will operational, regulatory, social or technical changes have the biggest influence?

MA: It’s going to be a combination of these, but risk reduction will definitely come into it – a lot of mining companies still feel technologies are risky whether that is in their implementation, operator acceptance, cost, etc. There is a myriad of risks associated with changing the way you do things and investing in technologies. A lot of that risk is, at least, reduced through collaboration; creating a bigger market and being clear on what products we want and how we develop the business cases, produce products and then implement them. That dynamic will evolve as mining companies get more used to implementing some of these new technologies and working with their people in a more agile way.

That said, I do think the rate of social change being driven through technology – the way we interact, get information, perceive and interact with the world, and how all of that continues to change social expectations – is accelerating. That cycle is putting more and more pressure on all companies, not just miners, to, for example, continually reduce their environmental impact (greenhouse gas and diesel emission reductions, for example). There is also an ever-increasing pressure for governments and communities to get greater amounts of wealth from their resources. In addition, investors are changing their thinking – what we used to call ‘impact’ investors are now almost considered ‘mainstream’.

There are a whole series of pressures that will be put on mining companies to make substantive changes to the way they do things and that will link to de-risking the way they implement new technologies.

IM: Looking at regulation, what are the major technology trends that will be influenced by incoming legislation, and where is this new legislation likely to come in first?

MA: A lot of governments – and I have recently spent most of my time in Canada, Australia and Europe – are thinking about how they reduce their environmental impact. Many of them have various greenhouse gas and climate change challenges, and I think aspects of these will find their way into legislation. That could be future reductions in diesel usage/emissions or energy usage (especially as it pertains to diesel, coal, etc). That means the electrification of industry and mining, specifically, could be impacted by regulations.

One of the reasons why I am keen to get more regulators involved in the GMG is because sometimes, in aspects of certain technology, the regulations are behind the technology use cases/implementations. As a result, there is a really great opportunity for industry and government to work hand-in-hand and get those regulations developed faster so some of these technologies can be implemented in a way that meets community, as well as industry, needs. I think drones, automation and robotics have all fallen into this category.

On automation specifically, the Western Australia Mining Department has led the world in thinking about and applying legislation around automation. That is in part because Western Australia is where a lot of the automation use cases started. There is a great role for them to show other regulators how these regulations could translate in their own regions. For instance, I spend time with Canadian Provincial Governments, and they are very keen to learn from what Western Australia has done in this arena. I think the Nordics – Finland and Sweden, especially – have also shown some great examples of how to create sandboxes and multi-industry collaborations for such technologies.

IM: Is there anything from a technology perspective stopping mining companies creating a fully autonomous operation?

MA: The challenges with automation are related to how to coordinate and control all autonomous equipment on a mine site in an integrated fashion. That is why we, at GMG, are pushing so strongly for greater interoperability so we can, say, connect Cat trucks with Boston Dynamic robots and some OffWorld swarm bots, operating them all on the one mine under one system. From a technology perspective, that is yet to be refined and developed; we can automate pieces – for example, trucks on surface, or trucks and scoops working together underground – but we can’t go beyond that.

IM: Interoperability has been holding back technology uptake for decades; are we close to a tipping point when it comes to solving this problem?

MA: While we have been talking about interoperability for decades, we haven’t had the really fast communications systems we have today with the likes of 4G and LTE. We also haven’t had the plethora of sensors or the computing power and storage via cloud computing. The latter is a big part of the puzzle as mining companies were using on-premises software for so long for their computing needs, which creates limitations.

I think we are starting to see some movement from the OEMs around interoperability and this whole open innovation concept. There has been wider acceptance across the mining community that open innovation creates competition, instead of stifling it. The interoperability work we are doing is starting to prove that.

Cat, for example, has just announced a partnership with IOSoft to upload the data from a lot of their machinery so it can be interpreted and analysed, etc. That is a move forward in terms of creating open data platforms.

IM: Lastly, with the advent of machine learning and AI, what do you see happening in the future with roles such as the geologist, metallurgist, engineer? Will mine site teams in, say 10-20 years, be dominated by data scientists/engineers, as opposed to personnel with these traditional skillsets?

MA: Going forward, we will have a much more diverse skillset on mine sites. I don’t think the geologist, metallurgist, or mining engineer – that knowledge base – will be completely replaced. Even in 50-100 years, I see that human ingenuity still being required. But I do think, in the next five, 10, 20, or so years, artificial intelligence and machine learning will help augment what we currently do.

For example, as a geologist, you spend a lot of time uploading data, manipulating geological models, etc. You spend far less time pondering what it all means or analysing the best way to obtain and evaluate that data based on what you already know and understand. Similarly, a lot of mining engineers spend time running numbers and changing small pieces of design and calculating the myriad of knock-on changes, as opposed to running numerous mine engineering scenarios.

What machine learning and AI will do is free us up from a lot of the mundane work carried out now and allow us to spend much more time on the analysis and contemplation side of the business.