Forward thinking: key mining trends for 2021

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Based on the article originally published in Mining Magazine's February 2021 issue 2021 by Max Luedtke: Smart mining comes of age

Automation and remote capabilities, digital transformation, sustainability and smart collaboration – four trends that ABB believes will play an increasingly important role in the mining sector in 2021.

The switch to remote services has accelerated in 2020, as mining companies embrace Industry 4.0 solutions that automate operations for optimized productivity, reduced equipment downtime and costs, predictive rather than preventative maintenance, and enhanced safety for mine personnel.

Connected mines mean making better use of the wealth of digitalized data available from working silos, equipment, assets and applications, so by the time it gets to operators, it is analyzed and on a device that is easy to use and interact with, allowing them to make rapid, smart, informed decisions.

Reducing carbon footprint and accelerating the journey to the all-electric mine is a business priority for mining companies and their customers, reflecting the importance placed on climate change and the environment by society as a whole, and enshrined in global treaties such as the Paris Agreement.

By Max Luedtke  LinkedIn
ABB’s Global Head of Mining

Remote possibilities: trends in automation and control

We are entering into the new normal: a new process of execution and managing projects remotely.

Historically risk-averse, miners are reappraising technologies that until now haven’t been universally accepted, with an increased focus in both industry and academy on human-automation interaction.

Digital applications remotely monitor the condition of mines and mineral processing plants to offer a complete online view of automation, instrumentation, electrical, mechanical or process equipment.

This allows specific maintenance-oriented algorithms to help predict and alert users to upcoming maintenance needs and possible equipment failures, as well as labour, travel and electricity costs.

ABB Ability™ Collaborative Operations solution offers 24/7 access to engineering experts to ensure continuous operations, optimised productivity and minimal disruption. The augmented reality app Visual Remote Support helps provide customers with remote maintenance or repair support, without the need for an onsite engineer. The app overlays computer-generated information onto the real-world environment through smart glasses or mixed reality devices.

This solution has allowed ABB to safely overcome restrictions on human touchpoints and travel resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and to respond to increased demand for state-of-the-art automation systems and platforms.

It should also be noted that uptake of automated solutions in mining means a skill transformation is on the horizon, with user interface and experience technologies increasingly in use and in demand.

Smart move to digitalization

ABB Ability™ MineOptimize: engineering capabilities, system solutions, digital applications, collaborative services

When it comes to the future of the mining industry, one thing is very clear: the road to digitalization is not optional. Research by management consultancy McKinsey & Company estimates that mine digitalization could save $373 billion by 2025, raising productivity and safety, and reducing waste.

No single company can realize this vision alone. Just as mining operators, large and small, require experienced partners who know which practical steps will get them there, technology leaders need ambitious customers and ecosystem players to develop solutions that bring real value to people.

Too often, mines include built-in silos with disparate data. Effectively unifying that information and the operational side of projects to make optimum use of data is the cornerstone of a smart mine.

ABB Ability™ MineOptimize comprises engineering capabilities, system solutions, digital applications and collaborative services that unify and optimize the lifecycle of a mine – from design and build to operation and service. The solution draws on the proven ABB Ability™ automation and information management platforms to ensure that the right people have the right information at the right time.

Using the power of digitalization tools and collaboration to accelerate mining adoption of Industry 4.0

Multi-faceted collaboration

Data-driven decision-making leads to smarter mine operations that maximize resource efficiency, and can be seen in action at the world’s most advanced and integrated mine at Garpenberg in Sweden. ABB’s System 800xA control solution is the ‘brain’ behind the automated mine, collecting data from Garpenberg’s 400-plus electric motors, 280 variable speed drives and two massive hoists.

Its operators and engineers, stationed at 33 different workplaces, are linked to tablet-equipped workers via a wired and wireless communication network installed in the mill and part of the mine.

Early engagement between the mining company and technology provider will continue to be key.ABB’s Enterprise Digital Transformation approach for the mining industry helps customers clarify their digital strategy, achieve strategic targets faster, and focus on the right projects with the best return on investment.

The road to all-electric and CO2-free mines

ABB envisages that carbon footprint figures will be attributed to every stage of the mining process, with more spotlight on the supply chain. Operators must demonstrate to end consumers that they are reducing indirect Scope 3 emissions that occur in the value chain.

Electrification is one key area of predicted progress in low footprint mining in 2021. ABB’s view is that automation and digital solutions will work alongside electrification to monitor energy usage and help miners reach their sustainability targets; and improve the quality of the working environment.

ABB is focused on realizing the all-electric mine and helping mines in their journey towards carbon neutral operations by going all electric, beginning with moving from diesel to electric vehicles (EVs).

Diesel-electric trucks can easily be attached to a trolley line, allowing them to run at a higher speed, and reducing diesel consumption by 90 percent and gas emissions from transportation by up to 90 percent.

The switch to alternative ores such as lithium – the backbone of technologies such as smart phones, and a core component of EV battery manufacturing – continues apace. Mining is set to draw on EV technology as it accelerates toward all-electric mines, and ABB anticipates big strides on this in 2021.

At the forefront of evolving the all-electric mine as the path to carbon-neutral operations

Smart collaboration

The pioneering Mine of the Future project is part of a wider trend of suppliers creating dedicated collaboration groups with the aim of bringing new technology solutions to market – one that has been accelerated by the creation of virtual working groups in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Collaboration is everywhere as suppliers, academia and large mining companies partner to rethink innovative business models as well as technologies. Virtual gatherings of customers and OEMs have led to a clear understanding that the earlier technology companies like ABB get engaged in a project, and the more partners around the table, quicker is the progress for all stakeholders.

It is becoming increasingly common for suppliers to create dedicated collaboration groups, where real time process information is available to all organizations involved, in order to reach the best possible solutions for customers. This shows a way of bringing new technology solutions to market for safer, more sustainable and more efficient mining production processes in 2021 and beyond.

Using the power of collaborating with a wide ecosystem to develop and implement cutting-edge initiatives

Case study: the LKAB, ABB, Epiroc, Combitech and Sandvik collaboration

Is it possible to use electrification, automation and data sharing to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at a mine to zero – while at the same time increasing productivity by as much as 50%?

The answer is yes. Devised by Swedish mining company LKAB, the project visualises a once-in-a-generation technology shift that will set a new world standard for sustainable mining at great depths, in partnership with ABB, Combitech, Epiroc and Sandvik.

Test work in LKAB’s Kiruna mine as well as in a virtual test mine will study the best way to build a CO2-free and autonomous production system. The project also aims to enable a completely safe mining environment for humans, using the Konsuln orebody to create a decentralised future workplace featuring an autonomous electrical mobile transport system in a mixed environment.

ABB has provided electrification solutions, connected control and operations management systems, high visualization and mobile operator workplaces. ABB will build a demonstration workshop to connect electrical and automation systems, and ultimately show how the systems work together.

By 2022, the ABB electrification and automation solutions will be fully installed at Kiruna as part of the SUM project and the aim is that a new global standard for mining production will be set by 2030.

LKAB, ABB, Epiroc, Combitech and Sandvik collaborate to build a CO2-free and autonomous production system

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