Phosphorous is an essential element necessary for the nutrition of plants, animals and humans. This naturally occurring substance is present in our food and water – and can even be found throughout our bodies. For that reason, companies mine phosphate rock to incorporate the nutrient into fertilizers, animal feeds and food additives.
One mining company’s expansive operations include a site in Florida that extracts phosphorus from ancient sea fossils and processes the ore into phosphate rock. Using sulfuric acid produced on-site, the rock is then converted to phosphoric acid and shipped to customers throughout the world.
Overall, the operation mines millions of tons of phosphate rock annually, producing 1 million tons of phosphoric acid and hundreds of pounds of phosphate feed. During that process, data must be collected and logged for continuous environmental and operational reports.
A Manual Shift
Throughout most of the life of the mining operation, statisticians manually processed operator data and transferred the information to various spreadsheets for daily and monthly reports. But after a major staff reduction in 2013, statisticians were soon few and far between. This meant that chemical engineers throughout the plant inherited the responsibly of collecting and logging data, as well as the manual calculation of forecasting trends in preparation for production reports seen by company executives.
Each day, engineers sifted through multiple data sources, including Excel® books and papers to manually calculate material-balancing recordings, branded inventory and more.
“The engineers would spend a lot of time circulating the data to get it right,” explained a systems analyst for the mining operation.
In fact, engineers spent at least two hours per day – and sometimes up to 20 hours per week – performing static calculations. At the end of the month, closure reports could take as long as six days complete, pulling personnel away from the heart of the business.
“The process left many engineers with too much on their plates,” the analyst said. “It was time to look into a different solution.”