Decades of easy profits in the mining industry have come to an end. The industry’s last major push of exploration projects came back with disappointing results. There just aren’t as many easily accessible rich ore bodies as their used to be, and lower grade deposits come with higher operating costs when using traditional extraction methods.
This fairly recent profit squeeze has forced many companies to look to innovation to drive their operational costs down and preserve profits. Some companies have already begun to transition their operations into the digital age. While others look to them for leadership, a common thread in this conversation has been the importance of Short Interval Control (SIC), and how it can drive exceptional results.
What is short interval control?
Short Interval Control (SIC) is a system of processes designed to help your workforce identify and act on opportunities to improve efficiency of your operation. It’s front-line focused and engages team members to review production data three or four times within their shift to assess where they need to focus their efforts right now to improve overall productivity.
A key feature of SIC is the use of real-time production data to guide instantaneous front-line decision making. SIC was born out of the manufacturing industry, where the focus was on optimizing equipment usage or OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness). However in mining, SIC has a slightly different focus: Asset and personnel utilization.
A successful implementation of SIC will have the following benefits:
- Improved Asset Utilization
- Improved Production Per Worker
- Reduced Cost per Ton
- Operational Agility - Fewer and smaller production setbacks
Short Interval Control in Mining
With a focus on asset and personnel utilization, what tools can operational mines give their front-line miners, geologists, engineers and supervisors to be able to enable SIC?
In principle it’s quite simple really: give them the ability to see where everything is and what it’s being used for.
- Location of vehicles, who is using them and what they are being used for.
- Location of equipment and what it’s current state is
- Status of environment (air quality, ventilation, rockburst hazards, flooding, etc)
- Location of other crews and crew members, and what headings and jobs they are working on
When you piece it all together, what you realize is that in order for crews to be able to adapt on the fly, they need to be able to see what’s going on in the mine around them in real-time. They need better situational awareness.
How to achieve better situational awareness in your underground mine?
In order to reach real-time situational awareness across your mine you will need to invest in multiple areas of IT. Here are the building blocks at a glance:
- Underground Wireless Network (Wi-Fi)
- A streamlined ISA99-compliant policy for bridging IT and OT networks
- Networked vendor products that are able to report their real-time status in a standardized way to other systems (vehicles, machines & sensors with “open APIs”)
- Management execution systems that are able to report their real-time stats in a standardized way to other systems (Execution, Technical Services, Maintenance, Materials & Process)
- A program for effectively managing system-integration projects in an agile manner
- A platform to organize, communicate and visualize the situational information in real time (or multiple platforms integrated together)
This is how Newmont organized their system at their Chelopech Mine using ISA 95 as a framework:
This may sound daunting, but the reality is you don’t need to bite it all off at once. By adopting an open platform that is capable of scaling, your company can invest into it in smaller increments over time (reducing risk and speeding up benefit realization). For instance, you could start with just vehicle location and telemetry, then add environmental sensors, then add production metrics, and keep adding different systems and data sources until you eventually can see everything from one intuitive interface.
What does it look like?
In the end, it looks like every employee (from mucker to CEO) being able to see exactly what's going on in the mine right now.
And so much more...
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