Felipe Rivera
Vice President and Hub Leader of Process Automation Industrial Automation Business
Schneider Electric
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EcoStruxure: Architecture for Sustainable Digitalization

By MBN Staff | Mon, 06/01/2020 - 17:55

Q: What risks does the tendency toward greater digitalization entail?

A: The strong tendency in the mining industry toward greater digitalization can potentially make companies vulnerable to cyberattacks or leaks. However, this risk can be almost entirely suppressed with the right technology. For example, at Schneider Electric we provide AI services by means of a completely remote support platform. Our AI service kit has a network protector, which is necessary because the client’s operational technology (OT) infrastructure will be different from the IT on which the AI service runs. Thus, a remote support platform must be registered in the client’s OT network. Our technology is connected to any node in the client’s OT network. The security level is military. Any change in the client’s OT has to be approved locally. It is also traceable. It guarantees that only the people that you want to give access to will be able to go into your system. Any change made is kept in a log.

Bolstered by this security framework, our system is immensely beneficial and competitive. It has a virtual interface that lets us see what the operator is seeing by means of a set of glasses. We can then interact virtually. This is applicable, for instance, to a digitally-operated electro-separation system in a mine. If the client needs the support of the automation infrastructure provider — which is Schneider Electric — they can have it in real time. If the client requires a third party to come in, someone who is an expert on the subject, he only has to give the third-party secure access. The expert on electro-separation systems can now service the machine remotely and effectively. Schneider Electric’s role is as an interface or mediator.

Q: What solutions does Schneider Electric have for mining companies that want to incorporate digitalization?

A: EcoStruxure is Schneider Electric’s open, interoperable, IoT-enabled system architecture and platform. It leverages advancements in IoT, mobility, sensing, cloud, analytics, and cybersecurity to deliver innovation for the mining and other industrial sectors. It is a digital architecture consisting of three layers. First, all the equipment in a mining operation that is connectable and has open connectivity protocols is enabled to be connected to our platform. Second, we create algorithms to analyze the complete process of all connected equipment, which, due to its complexity, escapes the reasoning capacity of single human beings. Third, the digital layer, where remote interaction and analysis of system data can be undertaken.

Basically, our system allows our clients to digitalize their systems and to make strategic and real-time decisions based on reliable data. The customer connects a piece of equipment to our system, operates it as usual, and lets the manufacturer service it remotely. Also, our customer is able to monitor the electronical, electrical and mechanical processes of its equipment to maintain efficiency. These benefits happen on the third layer of EcoStruxure: there, we can have remote access, business intelligence and analyses. These analyses can focus on many different variables, like profitability, efficiency and sustainability.

A further use of digitalization in the mining industry is directed at tracing the supply chain. Digitalizing the supply chain is a major challenge that can have highly beneficial results. The mining industry is spread out into several operating units. Being able to trace the mineral at every stage is extremely important. An example would be a Canadian mining company that has mines in Mexico and refines the mineral in another country before selling it in China. The productive chain becomes complex and it is important to keep it under control. EcoStruxure by Schneider Electric can incorporate supply chains within its larger architecture.

By adding many different areas of the mining operation to EcoStruxure, we are able to offer a comprehensive solution. Even if the information is not structured, our technology can process it and translate it into very synthesized information the client can use to improve business intelligence. Technology then becomes an important ally in our customer’s journey to achieve their business objectives and goals.

Q: How does EcoStruxure improve sustainability?

A: Everything can be understood in terms of energy cost. In our daily lives, for example, if we have a routine, we can measure and keep track of our energy use. We can count how many times we turn on a light bulb or flush the toilet. At the industrial level, operational efficiency translates into low energy use. There are many criteria for operating a plant, including production capacity or marginal costs. Sustainability is one of these criteria. At EcoStruxure’s digital level, we have an application called Energy Management that is able to control processes depending on desired levels of energy optimization. This application gives you the energy cost of each of your processes. The system can then make decisions depending on what the managers decide they want to prioritize. Sustainability can be prioritized or it can be harmonized with other criteria like profitability.

When the moment comes to generate a sustainability report, it can be done based on hard data, also demonstrating how sustainability interplays with other key variables. Every mining unit has a different goal. And every possible goal — profitability, productivity, sustainability — is related to the rest. Therefore, sustainability goes beyond being a goal itself. Energy efficiency results in lower electricity bills and higher profits. It is important to be able to map these relationships to understand them and be able to modify them.

Schneider Electric is a European multinational company providing energy and automation digital solutions for efficiency and sustainability. It addresses homes, buildings, data centers, infrastructure and industries, by combining energy technologies, real-time automation, software and services. The company has operations in over 100 countries and employs more than 135,000.

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