“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.”