Opportunities for Standardisation in Mining
What is the definition of mining? From the mining and quarrying perspective it’s all about the act, process, or industry of extracting coal, oars, and a multitude of other things inclusive of precious metals from the earth.
There are many opportunities and requirements with respect to mining where automation and standardisation really can play a significant role. What we know is that there is a multitude of mining industry challenges that truly need innovative solutions. The whole subject of mining includes the importance of addressing productivity, energy conservation, the environment, and declining deposit grades, all of which are high-priority items with respect to concerns for miners. Safety and security are of the utmost importance when thinking about mining.
As I started to research how standardisation could help (and specifically the OPC UA technology), I started to really look at a lot of the challenges and problems associated with mining from an international perspective. Low commodity prices, spiking energy costs, declining deposit grades, increasing environmental restrictions, growing public antipathy, withering market capitalization and skilled labour shortages are the challenges facing mining companies and they are really becoming quite considerable.
What I have learned is that the commodity prices are generally cyclical and subject to eventual recovery. The problem with mining is that a more long-term problem is faced: declining deposit grades, the world’s richest deposits are becoming exhausted.
The analysts in the mining industry are really putting an emphasis on urging all the mining companies to really invest more in innovation and technology in order to address all the issues associated with long-term productivity, energy conservation and environmental issues. Safety and security are very high-priority items that must be part of the core centre of any standardisation effort. Efforts underway by the global mining standardisation group and other standardisation efforts are already being put in place to help increase the capturing of data and information to increase productivity, reduce energy consumption and reduce environmental impacts for the whole mining sector.
Automation Improves Productivity
Originally there was very little automation in mining outside of the normal investments that have been made in clean energy. Significant advancements in technology are now being made including the development of high tech sensors that help mines do things like pre-sort before processing to recover minerals from what normally is the wasted ore.
Analysts are now stressing how the quality of the ore bodies are declining and that the industry really needs to make the best of the ore bodies that they have.
So the opportunities with respect to automation and mining are really focused on improving productivity, efficiency and safety through the implementation of an automation and reliable communication infrastructure.
The global mining standards and guidelines group (GSMG) has been actively working on data and information organization and usage. The focus of one of their groups is all about identification and documentation of the data requirements necessary for managing the operation of a mine and communicating all of those requirements to suppliers and other working groups to ensure connectivity standards that enable unanchored access to required data.
The opportunities for data and information by identification of the on board data needs, identifying the data needed by the various operations, and development of a common terminology and definitions across the industry really aligns well with many of the automation initiatives in industrial automation and other related domains.
Many of the suppliers of automation hardware and software in the industrial automation and building automation space are the same suppliers that are already being used in mining operations. THE GSMG focus has been on looking at the motivating factors because the drivers for development of common definitions inclusive of integration of technology really need integration of information; operations are looking for statistics and metrics and we want to have an enabled easy access to more accurate and precise information across all facets of mining.
In mining operations there are many “events” inclusive of equipment, environmental and personnel that really are the drivers and you can classify these into a variety of things ultimately driving standardised data and information definitions. The activities that really make up mining include drilling, blasting, excavation, loading, hauling and the list goes on.
There are many control systems currently used in mining automation that have access to the various sensors inside of the mines and a multitude of sensors involved in the actual mining operations.
Data Exchange Must Be Improved
To really advance the state-of-the-art in mining there is a significant opportunity to leverage this whole concept of data and information modelling and leverage a lot of the technology and lessons learned from industrial automation. Automation of mining is a very logical extension of the industrial automation that has already been deployed in petrochemical, pharmaceutical, chemical, manufacturing and any aspect of factory automation. It is really all about collecting the data, analysing the data and turning it into useful information that you can make intelligent decisions on using data analysis tools.
One of the key organisations that are really focused on collaborating with multitudes of organizations to achieve multivendor multiplatform secure reliable interoperability is the OPC Foundation. One of the key technologies that the OPC Foundation has developed is the OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA).
OPC UA is a service-orientated architecture that is totally scalable and has timeless durability. There are a series of specifications that make up the OPC UA. OPC UA is designed to provide complete multivendor multiplatform secure, reliable interoperability for moving data and information from the embedded world all the way to enterprise.
OPC UA provides a very rich information model architecture that allows other vendors and consortiums to describe their information model and build OPC UA servers that understand the data and the metadata of all the objects of their respective initiatives. OPC UA clients can then discover the OPC UA servers and discover the capabilities and also the complex information models that the OPC UA server renders and be able to provide and consume the data from both a syntactical and semantical perspective.
Because of the OPC UA information model architecture, many organizations have come to the OPC Foundation and formed liaisons partnerships and collaborations to model their information models for their respective data and provide this in a generic OPC UA namespace architecture (we call these companion specifications). Many organisations within industrial automation as well as organisations outside of industrial automation have rallied around the OPC UA architecture as the strategy for data and information integration from the embedded world to the cloud.
OPC UA has been standardised by the oil and gas community in an initiative known as MDIS, where all of the major oil companies, DCS vendors and subsea vendors work together to define a complex set of objects and corresponding behaviour and metadata. OPC UA was chosen as the information model and protocol that the oil companies have standardised on. This means that all of the vendors and subsea vendors that want to supply products to the oil companies must use the OPC UA technology with the OPC UA MDIS companion specification.
Standardisation Process Has Started
The OPC Foundation has already begun to work with a number of vendors that are active in the global mining and standards group that I referenced earlier, and as we work with these companies, ultimately the OPC Foundation will end up forming a liaison partnership with GMSG to model the information model into an OPC UA companion specification providing information integration and interoperability at its finest.
In summary, global mining and the ability to automate mining will highly depend on the ability for all facets of mining inclusive of the actual mining companies and all of the automation vendors to agree on a common set of terminology and standardising on mining objects. Through automation and standardisation simple things like maintenance and reliability of mining equipment will be easy, because information will be available for people and computers to make intelligent decisions for both condition-based and predictive maintenance scheduling operations.
Increased productivity, safety and security become simple by-products of leveraging technology through automation and standardisation. Leveraging infrastructures like OPC UA for complex information modelling and truly multivendor interoperability will allow mining companies to make best-of-breed choices and truly be able to optimize their operations.
Take a look at the advances in industrial automation in both process control and factory automation that have been achieved as a direct result of standardisation like OPC, and you will begin to realize the power of standardisation and automation that can be achieved in mining.
Technology innovation inclusive of data and information integration coupled with the connectivity strategy of Industrie 4.0 IIoT, M@M, IoT and B@B can provide significant automation opportunities for the whole mining industry.