Behind every great product, there are people who make it a success and stories that deserve to be told. We recently sat down with one of our software product owners, Jacob Abbott, who is specialized in mining. Jacob's focus is not just on making ABB's mining operations management software work well, but also on making the technology work across processes, organizations and vendors. The task is complex and needs significant leadership to lay the path for this potential interoperability. It means iterating tirelessly, overcoming the uncertainty and fear of the unknown, networking to exchange insights and build relationships.

What would most people be surprised to learn about you?

I really love going to new places, just generally hiking and exploring – and sometimes getting lost on purpose. The work can be very technical, so I like to unwind by working out. Being an Australian but having spent the last 16 months in living in Switzerland has left me with a never-ending supply of places to visit and little adventures to go on.
Jacob Abbott LinkedIn
Software Product Owner
ABB Ability™ Operational Management System for mining

Yes, you never know what you will find! Was it the same with your journey into the mining industry and how you became a software product owner?

Quite similar, yes. I kind of stumbled my way into the industry by accident. The first job that I took whilst completing my software engineering degree happened to be an entry level technical support at a mining software company, I quickly found out that I loved the industry. The inherent exploration that comes with it is exciting and the difficulty of the operational environment leads to creativity being required on the technical design side.

After completion of my degree, I moved up and around that company for several years into multiple operations and project roles, eventually leading a team. Over that time, I would have worked on about 30 different sites in multiple countries. I wanted to apply this industry exposure to a product. That’s how I stepped into a software product owner role at ABB, moving to Switzerland for the opportunity. It seemed like the next logical step to continue my development within the tech & mining industry.

Can you describe the product you are responsible for at ABB and what specific needs or pain points have led to its development?

Let me start with the context. There are many players within the mining software landscape that have been there for a long time with great products.  Some are specialized in mine planning, others in scheduling. On the execution side, we have strong software vendors for mining fleet management. On the next step of the value chain, there are digital solutions for information management at processing plants and all the way up to the enterprise level.  But these products often don’t work together at all. E.g. you have a mining plan, which is generally well put together, and then you have the execution software, which is also quite good. But if you want to see how your plan went into execution in detail, you often don’t have a tool for doing that. There is minimal collaboration between these separate systems, so mining employees are often still relying on pen and paper, spreadsheets, and verbal communication to convey what is ultimately just high value data that isn’t being shared.

The product that I am responsible for – ABB Ability™ Operations Management System for mining (OMS) – has been purpose-built to address the data flow challenges between siloed systems and teams that I have just described. First, OMS closes the gap between scheduling and execution, addressing an overall lack of transparency and traceability that typically exist in mines. It also closes the gaps between the execution and material handling, processing, quality, maintenance, business systems, etc. 

With OMS we create a loop that naturally feeds the execution values and disturbances back to the mine planner so that the next plan gets closer to reality. And we feed the extraction data into the stockyard, into the processing plant, the lab, and other departments. We build everything to be compliant with the industry standards such as OPC UA, ISA 95 framework and others. This makes our solutions scalable across multiple operations since the data models that are being used are going to be the same.

You could take your value chain from one site, tweak it very slightly, implement that into another site and have effectively the same process implemented across all of the sites.

OMS is part of ABB’s operational excellence software portfolio. I recommend this blog by the portfolio manager Rajesh Nandakumar Nair providing real-life examples of how mining companies are leveraging our software to drive improvements in speed, flexibility, dependability, quality and costs.

OMS basically gives different teams the operational performance visibility they need to collaborate and uncover hidden potential.

That’s a very attractive position - truly connecting siloed teams and tools, as we say, from mine to market. It would be great to hear about any recent milestone that you achieved on this journey.

The most recent and biggest milestone we hit was about implementation of automated data capture from OEM fleets, packed into OPC UA compliant messaging and sent by MQTT – which is a very lightweight network protocol.  Let me explain why it is a massive leap forward.

Photo credit: VDMA on LinkedIn
Everyone throws around the buzzword of “automation” in underground mining. But without high quality data you can’t really step into the automation space correctly. The best approach is to source directly from telemetry with some refinement. But a big challenge in underground mining is that we generally have mixed fleets providing data in different structures and sending it by different protocols. It’s kind of messy.

We managed to standardize that with the OPC UA messaging across multiple OEMs to get high quality data inputs, which lends itself to high quality automation outputs in the future. MQTT network protocol is used in this case – it’s low overhead and light, so it’s very attractive in situations like underground mining, where there is often poor network connectivity and when we can’t be sending large messages or building any reliance on 100% network uptime.

We are working with several partners, selecting the tools and protocols which are most fit for purpose within the industry that we’re operating in.

e.g. ABB is part of Europe’s largest mechanical engineering association VDMA and the OPC Foundation Working Group developing an Open Platform Communication Unified Architecture (OPC UA) information model for the communication among mining machinery, equipment and higher-level systems/devices in the respective processes. I was recently speaking at "Digitalization - Interoperability Mining" event organized by VDMA, sharing the lessons learned from this interoperability milestone we achieved.

Congratulations on this major leap! What feedback did you get from other industry players? And what challenges do still need to be worked on together?

Fundamentally one of the largest issues in the industry continues to be the siloing of data between different vendors, different onsite mining departments, teams and a lack of transparency between these components. Broader industry adoption of standards and frameworks like OPC UA and ISA95 to streamline the countless integration requirements from our clients will be of a tremendous long-term benefit for the clients that we service.

How do you see the role of software evolving in the mining industry over the next decade?

Believe it or not, pen and paper are still extremely commonplace for recording data in terms of mining production and execution. I see paper finally dying its long-awaited death.

A quote to live (or work) by?

“If you can't measure it, you can't improve it”. It’s true for the technology and sciences - as first mentioned by the physicist Lord Kelvin.  It’s true for any aspect of the operations in mining and beyond - as evangelized by the management guru Peter Drucker.  

If this idea had a perfect partner in crime, it’d be “We must realize—and act on the realization—that if we try to focus on everything, we focus on nothing.” - John Doerr

These ideas, in synergy, effectively boil down to – find out what matters, and measure it well. A focused effort on the incremental improvement on the data that actually moves the needle is always going to win.

Thank you, Jacob. Sounds like these quotes are embodied by your product as well. Your team at ABB is “productizing interoperability” to enable that incremental improvement on the data and beyond. Anything else you would like to add?

For our readers: Let’s explore your interoperability challenges and how to solve them together. Use the Contact form below and follow me on LinkedIn.

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