Tomorrow’s vision is today’s reality

Autonomous and digitalized: these two words are used to describe the future of mining. Yet in many respects, the technologies that are expected to drive tomorrow’s mine are already being implemented today.

What will the mine of 2030 look like? In December 2016, a steering committee at Siemens tried to answer this question. “One thing is certain: it will be autonomous and digitalized,” says Yun Zeng, director of Digitalization at Siemens Mining.

 

First and foremost, the major challenge for the industry will be handling lower ore grades. In fact, that is already reality for traditional open-pit mining operators today as they go deeper into the earth’s surface to obtain ore and in some cases transition to underground mining. Efficient operations in these remote locations will increase in importance. The key is expected to lie in highly automated modular equipment to enhance cost and operating flexibility. Resource depletion will also push mining to new frontiers – to extreme mining. In this regard, mining companies will start to look in areas that are not easily accessible but potentially contain promising mineral deposits, even the seafloor.

 

In the face of these hazardous and hard-to-reach environments, digitalization is seen as a major tool to increase cost efficiency and the automation of operations and processes in the mining industry. What is more, digitalization will drive the integration of suppliers and partners along the value chain. “That carries with it new levers to unlock potential for operational excellence and new business and operation models,” points out Zeng.

Welcome to the future digital mine

In short, digitalization tools are expected to be integrated at all mining stages, from exploration, engineering and simulation to advance process control.

 

Some of the attributes of the digital mine: The whole up-front mine-engineering process, from mine planning to process planning, will be completely digitalized and paperless. Strategic and real-time planning and scheduling will be aligned, and mine operations will be run fully remotely by real-time KPIs and decision-support systems. Furthermore, forecasts and quality management will be based on real-time data, which will allow for fast reactions to market volatility. Self-learning algorithms will identify optimized operation models to lower CAPEX and OPEX – independent from employees’ skills. And artificial intelligence will continue to develop, thereby giving way to self-maintaining robots and systems.

The mine-engineering process will be digitalized and paperless.
Yun Zeng, director of Digitalization at Siemens Mining

Two constant companions will be the extensive use of digital twins and cyber security. Digital twins will be used for simulations of sequential scenarios, for forecasts, and for quality management and control. Furthermore, digital twins will be the go-to tool for plant optimization, trainings and services. In regard to cyber security, prevention strategies will be an integral part of daily business operations, allowing for risk-free data exchange and operations. 

Already reality

The digital mine sounds good, doesn’t it? “For many, it might seem like something that is really far off,” Zeng says. “But the fact is, many of these technologies are already available today at Siemens.” 
The vision isn’t just on paper – it’s becoming reality.

2017-07-11

Picture credits: Siemens AG

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