Digital skills: Using data to optimize operations

Mining is on the verge of a digital transformation. It is taking place around the world as miners drive towards safer, more sustainable and productive operations. The impact of the pandemic also created a need to look at operations differently due to changes to the workforce, remote work and supply chain. The industry is increasingly turning to technology to guide their business strategy.

Technological enhancements in operations and equipment are creating the ability to capture vast amounts of information in real time. These endless streams of data can be daunting – and organizing all that data into valuable insights is one of the biggest challenges for mines today. Unlocking the potential of this vast amount of data requires a balance between industry expertise and an understanding of how to organize the data into meaningful insights.

Finding the right technology and properly implementing it to harness the benefits is not easy. And within mining this can be a daunting task because the geology, design, commodity and social economic factors are unique to each operation.

There can be an underestimation of the commitment and costs associated with developing and implementing a digital strategy. A single machine can have millions of data inputs, producing massive amounts of information every second. How will this information be used? Is the right infrastructure in place to handle the data? How can insights be turned into tangible benefits? For companies working on a digital strategy, small steps in selecting new technology, and rethinking how the company plans to track and execute on the data-delivered insights can offer substantial results. But this needs to be well thought out to understand where the key areas of focus need to be and how those benefits will be achieved.

Even for those further along in their digital journey, there are still some hurdles to overcome for better data optimization and learning how to unleash the power of the data insights. Companies that have the ability to unlock insights can increase safety and operational efficiencies, reduce costs, better react to ever-changing market conditions, and plan for supply chain fluctuations. The operational data available will support quality decision making. Taking steps in a phased approach allows learning to be captured and implemented to support the overall transition, minimize risks and increase the likelihood of success.

Solutions for better data insights

When data is harnessed correctly, companies can be better prepared to think proactively and quickly react to changes in the business. Information can be extracted and used to understand the implications across the entire mining value chain. To do this, you must ensure that there is a model in place to help decision makers understand the information and how it will impact the entire operation versus a specific area of the business.

As more companies look to pit-to-port or drill-to-mill solutions, there isn’t always a structured way to see the up and downstream effects of decisions. When data is only accessible by one department and isolated from the rest of the business, it can lead to poor decision making. Understand that technology adoption and data insights are only as good as the change management required for implementation. When data-based insights are sourced correctly and everyone has access to one single source of information, it can lead to better collaboration and business decisions. Companies can go beyond lagging indicators and start using leading indicators with predictive capabilities.

To be effective, a significant investment needs to be made on change management as for many companies this digital evolution will mean a change to how employees do the work. This initial phase can be challenging as companies may discover that their current technology or data platforms are insufficient, as the information required may show insights not previously available.

Skillset is another element that needs to be addressed in the change management process. Finding balance between knowledge and experience in technology and a deep mining acumen can be difficult and putting this experience, knowledge and insight to work remotely from an office hundreds of miles from a mining site adds another level of difficulty. To be successful, leaders need to invest in both the right people and scalable technology to help support the transition and integration into their business. 

Adam Brumwell is senior director technology solutions, Finning Canada.

View the article in Canadian Mining Journal.