Planning for the Mine of the FutureBy Lorenzo Núñez | Thu, 09/02/2021 - 17:57
Q: Where is the Mexican mining industry located on the digital transformation curve?
A: The Mexican mining industry is ready to take the next steps toward a digital transition. I believe this transition stems not from a global trend but from a local necessity within the industry. Mining companies are aware of the importance of automation and how it benefits operations, in addition to increasing the industry’s competitiveness and effectiveness on a global scale.
There are three major technological opportunities in the Mexican mining industry. The first is the importance of automation implementation. The second is human capital, which is an in which Mexico has remained competitive in comparison to other mining countries. Many young people are studying mining-oriented studies and skills, helped by the new digitalization scholarships that are available. The third area of opportunity is the synergy that exists between the mining industry and all active stakeholders. The industry is well aware of the importance of the digital transformation.
Q: What technology trends are destined to reshape the Mexican mining industry?
A: Mining is at the forefront of many industry trends, such as renewable energy. There is a common slogan that says, “Everything comes from mining.” Minerals are the base of many things that we interact with on a daily basis. Medications, for instance, contain minerals.
In addition, the pandemic has pushed technologies even further; in particular, the use of remote operations. Having an online platform capable of such a feat, as well as the necessary infrastructure, has allowed companies to continue their operations remotely. In Mexico, we already have mining operations that are operated remotely from a centralized location. We have seen operators supervising and operating a mine from thousands of miles away. The ability to operate remotely is the new trend.
Another trend in the industry is the well-known “digital twins.” A digital twin allows users to mathematically model anything, whether it exists or not. It gives us the tools to measure models and their performance, with the intent of uncovering their optimal performance. It also allows for improvements in existing operations or the optimal design of a new one.
The third trend, which encompasses several other factors, is artificial intelligence. Today, in an industry that generates thousands and thousands of data points, having access to AI algorithms is a no brainer. It allows for easy data management, which allows companies to improve their operational efficiency. Today, we have seen operations reach unheard of levels of optimization. AI is the key for cost-effectiveness.
Q: How is Siemens working to help mining companies transition toward a fully digitalized mining operation?
A: There is still much to do during this era of digital transformation. We are at the vanguard of digitalization, which represents a huge area of opportunity for us. Siemen’s first projects that serve as world-class references date back to over a decade ago. This demonstrates, that as a company, we have prepared ourselves over time to have the digitalization portfolio we have today. The portfolio contains our electrification solutions, coupled with automation solutions, which are then enhanced further with our digitalization. This has ultimately matured our mining solutions and our portfolio’s range is complete. The number of successful cases we have had is unprecedented in the mining industry, and it is all validated.
By applying our solutions, we successfully reduce our client’s operational costs. For instance, our client Vale has achieved over US$58 million in savings. The cost-benefit ratio has no comparison. In addition, we have automated systems already installed in a mining platform in Norway where there has been a dramatic reduction in staff transportation. By only having selected staff members at the operation itself, production costs have been dramatically reduced, and this is due to the nature of the platform mine. By y using stackers and reclaimers in other mine operations, we have automated systems that have resulted in the complete elimination of the risk of an accident while also reducing maintenance costs.
Q: What is your vision for the mine of the future?
A: Ten years ago, at our Germany headquarters, they devised a scheme describing the mine of the future. I can tell you there will come a point where there is nothing left to mine on the surface, prompting mines to reach even further below. But even those are destined to run out and so we will aim toward ocean mining, which already has specific technologies that are being developed. Nevertheless, even those, are destined to end as well. The mine of the future, which today may seem unlikely, will no longer be on our planet. There will be a time where space mining will be as common as an open leach mine.
We need to be conscious of where we are headed as an industry. We have to align our strategy as a supplying company to design and develop the technologies that will be needed in the industry. We will have to come up with solutions that will allow companies to reach even deeper, while complying with mining regulations and the environmental measures that have become a staple of the industry, all while implementing our AI data management that will allow companies to improve their decision-making.
Q: How will Siemens’ holistic architecture concept shape the future of mining?
A: Our holistic concept approach encompasses both our electric generation and distribution portfolio, as well as our digitalization portfolio, which provides a complete solution for energy generation and transmission of an operation. We have under our belt, projects with clients that have been built in their entirety under this concept. This has allowed them to have a complete digitalized operation, meaning that from the very beginning of energy generation to all the data management required in an operation, data is digitalized and available for decision-making.
Siemens is a global technology company focused on eight different divisions. It operates 289 major production and manufacturing plants worldwide.