Energy optimisation essentials

Mine tunnel with path

One only needs to look out the window at one in the morning, to see a Christmas tree in front of you, if you live in the city. Street lights are on when nobody is using the roads, office buildings stand lit up with nobody inside. Common sense could be the biggest combat to this so-called energy crisis, which is more a crisis of intelligence.

I would even suggest that all public lighting should have sensors that detect movement and turn on for two-five minutes, and then off again. Business is seeing the urgent need to reduce, with analytics being the main weapon in understanding exactly where the problems in usage occurs from a mathematical perspective.

To get a greater insight into one of the major players in the analytics game, Gregory Simpson caught up with IBM’s general manager for industry global industrial products, Dirk Claessens, who is an expert in the field of reducing overheads.

How can analytics help a mining company save time and money?

The mining industry has got a high risk profile because of the fact that it’s highly capital expensive, the fact that it’s dealing with commodity markets and has a health and safety high risk profile. When we bring analytics in, it adds predictability to what’s going on. In asset management you can do unpredicted maintenance and we provide a solution suite there, predicting equipment to fail before it actually happens. On production level we can predict quality, based on production perimeters before the product actually reaches the final infantry. Health and safety: we have a solution that’s called Guardian Angel that equips people with various metering objects on the body connected to a mobile application. If somebody falls over people around are notified on their mobile phone so they can go help out.

Can you put a rands and cents figure on the sort of savings that companies enjoy by utilising analytics?

I have seen the percentage saved to be an additional five to 10 % on the NPV over three years for one company. In rands it was around R120 million per annum.

What solutions can software help provide for the energy crisis?

The energy crisis is an interesting one because the steel industry has been asking for analytic solutions and energy optimisation. If you look at all the automation data that comes through on a plant level, if you look at the energy assumption, if you look at utility sources, energy sources and energy consumption and you align that with a schedule of your operation you will be surprised how much energy efficiency you can apply, just by working with the data you are getting. I’m not talking about big and massive infrastructure changes, I’m just talking about looking at your data to synchronise productions scales with energy scales because often energy is used as an unconstrained resource. By aligning the two you would be surprised how much energy you could save.

What is the key differentiating factor between IBM and your competition in a very tight industrial software market?

The key differentiator is that we are independent of the equipment that’s been utilised so we’ve got open integration technology that takes data from anywhere it’s being provided. We have researched, are dedicated to the mining industry so the analytics we provide and the optimisation tools and solutions are very advanced. An example of a platinum mine here in South Africa: it has 185 000 tasks that need to be scheduled optimally over three years. That is really heavy duty math/science optimisation and we feel very strongly equipped to do that kind of work. It’s a combination of open technology and new technology plus dedicated research of the mining industry.

How usable is the equipment for the man on the ground?

What we’re trying to do, in a number of locations, is to provide mobile devices. We’re working together with Apple, which we announced three or four months ago, with apps like the Guardian Angel. It’s as simple as it can humanly be, so it’s an interface you use with your Smartphone.

Why choose Apple specifically to partner up with?

In terms of usability and consumer ability they’re the leaders in the market. To provide a mobile user interface that is easy to use and very intuitive is key.

Can you conceptualise what the mine of 2035 might look like if technology had its way?

I would expect us to have data falling through an automated operation in a way that we can continuously improve the efficiency and the productivity of the equipment. I would expect us to use calculated systems that understand and interpret all the data coming through and in the learning mode improving the operation as it goes along. So it is very much more independent from human interaction.

How do you guide your customers to make best use of the data from your software, because there must be a lot of data coming in to decipher?

That’s a good question. In a mining environment, specifically, it’s very complex. You would have more than 300 mining technical systems on an asset level and it makes no sense to replace them all, but use state-of-the-art integration technology that amalgamates all that information coming through and it presents in a very usable way, in a data base that everybody can work with. Then you easily bridge that gap, all that information coming through my technical systems into an enterprise level where you then can start fulfilling your demand, auditing what’s going on in the mine and so forth.

There are a lot of fresh opportunities for African mining, where do you see key growth areas for your business?

The African mining market has seen big shifts in demand, big shifts in environment. It’s very difficult to respond to those shifts, so there’s a lack of agility to the way the market changes. A macro perspective is needed to fix that problem. 

What can South African mining learn from the way the European industries approach mining in a more professional manner?

If you just look at one example, if you look at Boliden, that’s a Swedish copper mine. They are by far the most productive and efficient copper mine in the world but they’ve done that because they’ve had to.  Their labour costs are higher than anywhere else so their cost per ton of copper is higher than anywhere else, regardless. So out of necessity they have been working on structural productivity improvement for as long as they exist, which is a great example of what can be achieved.

Gregory Simpson




Open cast mine with giant excavator Illuminated bucket-wheel excavator at night Abstract techno background Dirk_Claessens.jpg
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Issue 39