If you’re like most modern mining operations, you’re facing relentless pressure to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Rethinking minerals processing – in particular, transitioning to digital control and optimization in your existing operations – is one key lever to deliver a step change in productivity.
As you set out on the digitalization journey, implementing IoT in your existing minerals processing operations is a first important step that will drive the hunt for radically improved productivity.
We have experienced this transition firsthand at Metso. Recently we announced a global IoT platform for minerals processing equipment called Metso Metrics, designed to better capture and analyze the data being produced within our customers’ existing infrastructure.
This global program started in 2015 with a pilot that focused on a single connected machine. We began to remotely monitor an African-based mining crusher from our engineering facilities in Wisconsin. Because this was our first IoT program in mining, our approach was to start small and then use the results to decide whether to expand the program more broadly.
The benefits of the connected machine became quickly apparent. Almost immediately we were able to use the data collected to identify opportunities to improve both performance and reliability. At the conclusion of the pilot, we had the results we needed to move forward with confidence and launch a global IoT platform.
In addition to our own IoT program, we’ve also worked alongside numerous mining companies as they begin to fully embrace IoT. Through these experiences we’ve identified a few practical lessons learned that will hopefully help guide your own IoT journey.
When planning an IoT program it is critical that you define a particular problem you’re trying to address and set goals aimed at solving it. In our experience, IoT programs that ultimately gain broad organizational acceptance are those that focus initially on specific use cases.
For example, you might set a goal specific to maximizing uptime among bottleneck machines. Or perhaps your crushers are experiencing specific challenging conditions such as processing wet ore or being mostly trickle fed, that require tailored solutions.
Then consider what types of data can be collected and analyzed to help meet the goal and define KPIs to align. Remember, data can be collected from virtually any aspect of a connected mines operations, so think creatively about where and how it could be used to make desired improvements.
For many operators, an IoT program necessitates a move to a new way of making decisions – one that is based on data.
This often requires setting up new operational procedures to ensure data is being effectively shared with the field and properly acted upon.
In addition to new processes, a significant shift in mindset is often needed as well. Maintenance technicians, for example, may be accustomed to making decisions about asset health based on historical performance or intuition.
Now, they’ll need to use data as a guide instead. Be prepared to offer training as needed to ease the transition.
When deploying an IoT solution, the technology itself is only half the equation. Your teams can have all the data and dashboards in the world at their fingertips, but it is useless without the appropriate people in place to draw insights and take appropriate action.
You need service-focused people – whether that’s employees or a trusted partner – reviewing the data and making sure necessary steps are taken to act upon it when needed. A sensor can identify that a bearing is going to fail, but someone has to be there to make sure it gets into the maintenance plan and gets changed.
At Metso, our IoT program began with one machine. Our goal was to determine whether this connected machine could give us better insight into the customers’ maintenance needs, thus allowing us -- as an OEM -- to provide a better service.
Though the scope of the pilot was very narrow, it was always tied to our overarching digital goals. Proving success in one area allowed us to earn support for future expansion. In our experience, customers who land top-level support for their initiatives often strike a careful balance between tactical execution and broad vision when selling in the program.
They show tangible benefits while also painting the picture of how it ties to the enterprise’s overall digital initiative. Ultimately, an IoT program can’t be an isolated opportunity. Rather, it must fit within the organization’s long-term plans for digitization and automation.
As we experienced, IoT has the potential to unlock tremendous value through improved performance and productivity, especially in an asset-heavy industry like mining.
The reality is there is no silver bullet for success with IoT – it is a journey, not a quick fix. But with smart planning and ongoing iteration and improvement your organization can achieve sustainable, meaningful results.
Want to learn more about the benefits of digitalization and IoT? Read Metso’s recent blog post, "Rethinking Minerals Processing with Digital."
Co-authored by Brian Delfosse
OEM Account Manager, Rockwell Automation