One of the most digitally connected mines - Gold Fields Granny Smith in Australia

In a significant step towards more productive and sustainable mining, Gold Fields implements and integrates ABB's digital operations and fleet management system (FMS) that supports the latest Industry 4.0 interoperability standards. With people, assets and tasks digitally connected, teams achieve new levels of scheduling efficiency, can optimize resource usage and maintenance.

Customer need

Goldfields was seeking a digital solution to streamline their data capture processes
which is currently manually done and utilize this data to drive real business results

ABB solution

OMS / FMS for managing locations, equipment and operators underground to increase operations visibility and safety, optimize resources utilization, support decarbonization

Customer value

Enable operators, shift supervisors and managers to react in real time to any unplanned events and assist in their scheduling and planning, leading to operational excellence
Video credit: Gold Fields - LinkedIn

"Whether its meeting operational KPIs, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) targets, or harnessing the benefits that come with automation, digitalisation is the necessary foundation for future mining success."

Sachin Vaidya, ABB’s Regional Business Line Manager for Digital

Between a rock and a hard place

Granny Smith, 740 kilometers north-east of Perth, is a mature mining complex, with various mines having been worked there since 1989. The current Wallaby mine, which operated as an open pit from 2001 to 2006, began following its rich seam underground in 2005, and surveys indicate it still has many years of productive life, which justified the business case for modernization.

The digitalization of activities below the surface has typically been hampered by the difficulty of enabling wireless communications underground. Gold Fields invested in its own 4G network at Wallaby to Long Term Evolution (LTE) communication standard, which in turn enabled transmission of large volumes of data underground, and from deep in the mine to the surface.

Gold Fields turned to ABB to transition operation from excel spreadsheets and verbal commands to digitalized scheduling and real-time visibility of people, assets and tasks.

Operational insight in underground mines can be "very dark"

Although it may seem simple, scheduling of the vast number of interdependent mining activities is a hard task that has a big impact on safety, energy consumption and environmental performance. Imperfect manual coordination often limits the mine's ability to operate at maximum efficiency.

Each procedure may involve 10 or more different tasks, requiring various pieces of equipment, as well as the specialized employees licensed to operate that machinery. Without oversight of what’s happening underground at any given time, optimizing the personnel and assets utilization is impossible.

If equipment breaks down, or a licensed operator is delayed on another procedure, it could take a couple of hours to get new equipment in place, or to bring another operator from the surface to the drill site.

Previously, managers couldn’t “see” if there was someone qualified in a nearby tunnel or identify that a team and equipment could be reconfigured to start a different tranche of work while a particular machine was repaired. Working with industry-typical radio communications and paper schedules, managers had to routinely build in buffers of time to allow for contingencies in movement of personnel and equipment underground.  

Mining companies in Australia are world renowned for their advanced practices. Most mines could potentially squeeze only around 1% more productivity from above-ground processes such as milling and concentrating ore. Below the earth’s surface, however, the productivity gains from automating management and scheduling of tasks can be as high as 30%.

"The transformation of Gold Fields bodes well for a resources-hungry world that is simultaneously focused on reducing emissions. For Granny Smith mine, the flagship for digital transformation across the company, it means more efficient and therefore profitable extraction of gold and a cleaner environment - as unnecessary equipment and people movements are optimized into a seamless workflow."
Eduardo Lima, Solution Architect at ABB Mining

Lifting the lid on an opaque realm and achieving transparency

Applying digital Fleet Management System (FMS) to this scenario is like lifting the lid on an opaque realm and achieving transparency. ABB is helping Gold Fields in Australia to digitally optimize mining operations at Granny Smith Gold Mine, as a flagship for digital transformation across the company. We are implementing and integrating ABB's FMS, underpinned by the ABB Ability™ Operations Management System for mining (OMS), that supports the latest Industry 4.0 interoperability standards. 

Now, sensors applied to machinery at Granny Smith constantly monitor and transmit the whereabouts and operational state of critical equipment and personnel, and employees can receive documents and work orders via computer tablets, as well as report on completion of tasks or interruptions to the schedule.

Provided with such real-time data, ABB’s operations and fleet management systems can maximize utilization of equipment and orchestrate the workforce to progress more seamlessly from task to task, adapting to events as they occur.

Once embedded in mine procedures, this fully interoperable system will allow Gold Fields to manage operations at Granny Smith in real time from a centralized control room. 

Digitalization resolving the disconnect between production scheduling and execution

The shift manager is notified about disturbances immediately on their dashboard

Rescheduling can be done in seconds instead of hours

Testing industry 4.0 applications on a Digital Twin to avoid disruption

During development and tailoring of the digital platform, ABB utilised its partnership with the University of Western Australia’s Energy & Resources Digital interoperability (ERDi) Test Lab run by Enterprise Transformation Partners (ETP) at the University of Western Australia (UWA). It opened in 2020 as part of the Australian Government’s Industry 4.0 Testlabs for Australia initiative. Together, we built a digital twin of the Granny Smith system.

This meant ABB could demonstrate to Gold Fields how the digitalization of processes would work. And it allowed both companies to collaborate offsite on eliminating any bugs, away from the distraction of day-to-day mine procedures. The ABB-Gold Fields team ran multiple scenarios on the digital twin over a four-month period, to verify the interoperability of mining equipment and operations, and optimize functionality.

ERDi TestLab is run by Enterprise Transformation Partners, a consultancy to the resources sector which aims to implement and promote standards-based interoperability in technology that supports new ways of working rather than simply automating existing approaches.

“The performance requirements of a software package that exchanges and processes granular events with rich information in real-time, when compared to a software package designed for periodical manual entry, are like comparing chalk and cheese. That’s where ABB plays a big role.”
John Kirkman, ETP Managing Director


“Collaboration has been critical to the success of this project. Our technology teams have worked closely with ABB and ETP and other vendors to build an agnostic system architecture that will enable real-time visibility across operations”
Rob Derries, Unit Manager, Innovation and Technology, Gold Fields Australia

Implementing new ways of working is an intensive aspect of digitalization

Gold Fields’ process of engagement is designed to show its teams that these new flexible, responsive digital capabilities are going to make people’s jobs easier, safer, and less frustrating.

Part of building functionality into the Granny Smith application was customizing tablet interfaces to reflect the mine’s organizational culture. ABB also conducted training of Gold Fields’ people and engaged a specialist with experience in enabling the human-to-machine interface, to ensure the mine’s employees were both confident and comfortable with the transition from analogue to digital systems.

As data is aggregated on the ABB Ability™ Operations Management System for mining (OMS) platform, this record of procedures and outcomes will also empower Gold Fields’ geologists, engineers and surveyors to make faster, more informed decisions. 

The implementation of this OMS also underlines just how important collaboration is in the context of digital transformation, and ultimately, interoperability.  

“As a mine operator, we face a broad range of planning and operational challenges in hard-to-predict environments. We like building on our people’s capability and experience by working with technology innovators to bring in the tools and systems to better manage this balance. It also allows our people to move into more highly skilled roles and tasks.”
Rob Derries, Unit Manager, Innovation and Technology, Gold Fields Australia

Improving visibility: Cleaning up the existing data, enhancing data flow, mapping important metrics, KPIs and tasks information

Alignment with ISA-95 standard

In mining, there is often a divide between departments and business levels, with each silo representing assets in very different ways, and sometimes the names of these different assets are not aligned with each other. The ISA-95 standard provides a universal language and an understandable framework in which information can be exchanged.

"This seemingly simple requirement is the key to interoperability that will enable asset properties, functionality, and configurations to be shared across the industry.  "
Clinton McKinnon, ABB Product Manager – Digital for Mining

With the introduction of the ISA-95 standard at Granny Smith, the mine has a ‘plug and play’ architecture that can be deployed across open pit and underground operations. What that means is that it connects and integrates information from other hardware and software – such as sensors applied to machinery, and the Mobilaris underground situational awareness and location tracking software – giving planning and operations teams the ability to see the whereabouts and monitor the condition of critical equipment and personnel in real time.

ABB Ability™ OMS, as applied to Granny Smith is gold

Granny Smith’s workforce will be able to receive documents or work orders live via smart tablets, as well as report their task completion or any interruptions in real time. All fixed and mobile equipment will be connected, allowing teams to achieve new levels of production scheduling efficiency and optimize their resource usage from bench preparation to crusher. 

“One of the benefits we’ll see immediately is more efficiencies in our short interval control, because until recently, a lot of the work was done manually with verbal commands over the radio. This will give us visibility of how our operators are performing against their daily shift schedules.”
Shannon McDermott, Superintendent for Technology Projects at Gold Fields Australia

Ultimately, the fully operational system at Granny Smith is forecast to increase productivity by 5-10%, and lead to 25% cost savings from integrations that optimize the mining value chain, planning and design. Time taken to schedule programs of work will also be reduced by 25%, and will free valued personnel for more productive and satisfying tasks than rescheduling time and again. Plus, efficiencies achieved on site in equipment movements and maintenance are anticipated to reduce the mine’s carbon footprint.

In already congested underground environments, which cannot safely accommodate more personnel or equipment, digitalization is the only way to wring greater efficiencies from mine workflows and processes. 

“The mine now has one single, unique system that will bring transparency to the planning and operations. These teams will now have a clear vision of any roadblocks or bottlenecks in their operations. This will translate to significant savings as they address efficiency opportunities and improvements in the productivity of the mine.”
Alan Teixeira, Product Business Line Manager – Mining & Digital Solutions, ABB Australia

Innovation means little unless it is applied and scaled

Innovation means little unless it is applied and can be scaled to benefit an organization as a whole or, in the case of the digital mine, an entire industry and ultimately the world. 

Innovation by ABB and Gold Fields at Granny Smith Mine has been not only in implementing an advanced, intelligent and interoperable operations-management platform, but in integrating new ways of working with the mine’s culture to ensure that digitalization is a success.

ABB Australia has been recognised in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) BOSS Most Innovative Companies 2021 list for its cutting-edge collaboration with global gold miner Gold Fields, to implement one of the world’s most digitally enabled underground mines. 

We’re immensely proud of the achievement, and of the AFR accolade.

Ready to lift your productivity while addressing unpredictable environmental realities in mining?

Use the contact form below to discuss how ABB can help you orchestrate the workforce, optimize resource allocation across fixed and mobile assets and take the right actions for your operational performance objectives .

Select region / language