Álvaro Rendón
ECN Scientific
View from the Top

Industry 4.0: Creating Intelligent Mines

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 16:27

The connected industry, or Industry 4.0, is the standard title that defines the technological impact of cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) in the operation, maintenance and supply chain groups of industrial operations.

The IoT is comprised of cloud servers that collect information from field devices through the IoT Hub, which is the gateway to the cloud and in charge of achieving a secure connection of our data. This IoT Hub can also be connected directly to the DCS of a plant or servers with existing plant databases.

These connected services will generate new business models and a new generation of expert consultants based on the prediction models that can be programmed into existing Machine Learning servers on the cloud. New DNA is being developed, which will be a combination between process engineers and computer engineers. This will program live-stream data, which after being filtered, validated or discarded, will build predictive models that will be dynamically adjusted and can be used in real time through web services. With these, we can integrate our process monitoring to use as information in our decisionmaking.

Imagine a scenario where all suppliers are able to define, in real time, the adjustments or improvements they must make to their product to send to the customer. For example, the firmness of each section of a mill’s internal linings can be adjusted, based on the different waste generated by each section, so that the new batch will achieve a more uniform wear. Furthermore, a connected service from this supplier could alert the mechanical or process area that some equipment is operating outside its specifications, thus registering events where coatings could suffer greater wear, as in the cases of loading and unloading mill cycles.

The Mexican mining sector must, as soon as possible, promote the creation of an Innovation Center for Mining 4.0, as has already been done in other countries. Efforts should be focused on research centers, academia and private companies dedicated to the development of solutions for mining process optimization, so that the new professionals who will use this new intelligent mining can be prepared. Mining companies that install the first systems must allow universities and research centers to use these early systems as training centers for new engineers.

All mining companies should start a process of digital transformation to remain competitive. This trend will attract metallurgy and process control professionals to the companies that invest the most in the digital transformation, meaning companies will have difficulties retaining qualified labor if they do not adapt to the new landscape. In the same way, companies that supply and service mining companies will have to transform and adopt this technological trend, or they will be replaced by new companies that can provide a connected service.

Professional positions at the operational and logistics monitoring centers will be among the new jobs generated by miners. These jobs were traditionally something that were created exclusively by large multinational mining corporations. On the contrary, the scale of the mining operation will not hinder these efforts because the necessary infrastructure does not have to be acquired as an asset but as a cloud service, which will be incrementally invested in and will follow a critical optimization path.

In short, we have to create the intelligent miner ourselves. In the future, the devices or systems connected using IoT will generate large structured databases (Big Data), which can generate statistical prediction models (Machine Learning). These models can be fed back to the process control systems, so that they use the parameters in their control loops and thus achieve the optimization of processes.

New business models will emerge that, like Optimization as a Service (OaaS), will give rise to a new generation of consultants who will be able to use the remote-monitoring platforms for industrial plants, matching what has been done for years in the oil and gas industry.