Combatting Old Mindsets with New TechnologiesMon, 10/22/2018 - 17:22
The last price downturn taught companies to be more prudent in their operations, especially when it comes to investment in technology. With the sector entering a positive phase, caution remains the rule that will shape the character of the rebound but which could also prove an opportunity for innovative developers. “We are entering a new economic cycle, but this upturn will differ from others as it will be more measured given that producers are more aware of price-volatility permeating the industry,” says Andrés Jáuregui, Strategic Account Director of GE Mining for Latin America.
The industrywide desire to continue reducing costs while optimizing production is broadening the sector’s embrace of the digital revolution. Companies are increasingly releasing new technologies that can maximize operations while at the same time reducing environmental liabilities and increasing operational safety. One of the leaders in this transition, GE, whose history in mining spans electric drives for off-highway vehicles, water-treatment technologies and innovative Digital Mine solutions, considers Mexico to be a key market thanks to the country’s principal role in the region. But participating here is no easy feat.
As one of the oldest industries in the world, miners have a way of doing things that are deeply embedded into their culture. But miners should also understand how new technology can improve their existing processes and provide added value, Jáuregui says. This is what GE calls Discovered Value Assessment (DVA), a method used to apply pilot tests to an asset to give the client an opportunity to try the product and experience its benefits. “We work very closely and collaboratively with our customers to overcome resistance and understand their needs. We share with them how our technology can optimize their operations,” he says.
The digital revolution has the potential to transform the sector, not only in Mexico, but globally. Jáuregui believes this transition bears a key question: how can miners use operational information for Big Data connectivity? Mine operators often collect a wide range of information from their different processes but they do not know how to integrate this data to make their production more efficient, he says. GE can help companies with its innovative products, such as the Digital Mine project for asset management that optimizes processes in mining operations and increases productivity. “We extract the data and analyze it,” Jáuregui says. “We have a team of experts that then answers our customers’ questions online. GE takes the lead, with specialized experts in our own industry.” The company is also using the industrial internet to optimize performance through a set of learning analytics that allow the development of innovative solutions and strategic planning.
Along with the use of Big Data management, digital technology has another key trend: Collision Avoidance Systems (CAS), says Jáuregui. This is important given the high accident rate in the mining industry and the demand for high-quality products unaffected by human costs. The company is betting on technology that can provide maximum productivity with reduced human harm while complying with mining legislation for safety in operations.
The digital revolution is additionally creating a demand for sustainable solutions such as water management. In Chile, for example, there are many operations in the Atacama Desert, where aquifers are protected by national legislation. Due to the water-intensity of drilling activities, Chilean miners were forced to pursue technology for water desalination to gain access to the resource. Jáuregui predicts that stricter environmental legislation will require many operators in other countries around the world to follow suit with these types of solutions.
GE is developing sustainable solutions for the mining industry that address this trend, such as its new generation of LHD trucks fueled by lithium-ion batteries. This technology can replace diesel-fueled trucks, reduce the release of CO2 emissions and the resulting use of fans for underground mines. “Our focus is to develop our technology jointly with our clients,” Jáuregui explains. “In Mexico there is great interest among our existing associates, including Parts Service Supply and Cominsa, and we are also starting conversations with other companies.”