There is no doubt that the future of the industry can benefit from the application and adoption of relevant digital technology, to address rising pressures mounting on business sustainability and reduced energy consumption. Schneider Electric has been a leader in the deployment and adoption of digital technologies in mining and has an entire organisation dedicated to mining.

“The global and local organisations have invested significantly to further develop the specialised competence in mining applications. We are able to help our customers to address their challenges for practical applications,” explains Marc Ramsay, ‎Vice President Industry Business Unit at Schneider Electric South Africa. “We believe that technology integration combining energy management, process automation and software through our IoT enabled platform, EcoStruxure, leverages an enabled, open and interoperable architecture to deliver true digital transformation.”

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By bridging IT and OT architectures, EcoStruxure enables customers to maximise the value of data and edge control, which translates into actionable intelligence for better business decisions.

“One of the main challenges has always been to make real-time decisions based on information that is spread across disparate databases and applications positioned at the edge and locked within mining hierarchical disciplines. With that in mind, Schneider Electric, which devotes in excess of 6% of revenues to research and development, believes that the technology it has provided can provide a high level of value to its customers through the breaking down of operating silos both vertically and horizontally across the mining value chain,” adds Ramsay.

“Connected devices (data acquisition layer) can now be safely and reliably accessed from the cloud and mine product deliveries can be traced back to the mine design with a click of a button, in real-time. This is truly a unique time to be in mining,” he says.

“Operational efficiency is still below global benchmarks and plagues our mining industry. The management of capital asset utilisation and production maximisation remains a core focus for Schneider Electric’s mining teams. Whether we are reducing Mean Time to Repair (MTTR) of our medium voltage switchgear (Premset) using augmented reality or embedded equipment fault diagnosis (Vijeo360), we are dedicated to reducing operating costs and improve efficiency of equipment and workforces.”

“We believe that an important aspect of digital transformation is the human aspect, and while autonomous operation continues to be a compelling and necessary aspect of mining operations, the future workforce integration should not be neglected, and we are developing applications in this area. Already our customers are benefiting from adoption EcoStruxure™ Augmented Operator Advisor, which combines contextual and local dynamic information for highly mobile users. The technology enables them to experience a fusion of the physical environment, real-life environment with the added layer of virtual objects and critical information,” adds Ramsay.

“The mining industry is a high consumer of electrical energy, and at Schneider Electric we believe that the access to safe, reliable and efficient energy is a basic human right. Our mining teams work with customers to manage their energy footprint and consider all aspects of the efficiency of the mining process to serve this requirement. Because an efficient minerals extraction process or mineral liberation process will reduce energy footprint in many cases,” he says.

Schneider Electric has been delivering complete solutions for the mining industries, from Low Voltage and Medium Voltage equipment to transformers and grid automation, over 150 years, and will cover all aspects of a mines power distribution needs. Its latest integrated IoT-enabled power management architectures enhance connectivity, network security, real-time operational reliability, and smart analytics for peace of mind and significant financial benefits. Some of the benefits include:

  • Safety for personnel and installations

  • Maximum continuity of service

  • Embedded communications enabling real-time analytics

  • Improved uptime, energy efficiency and productivity.

According to recent studies conducted by many independent research and development companies, autonomous and mechanised mining can have a significant impact on extending the economic life of many mining operations, as well as the profitability of these mines, which in turn will have a significant positive impact on an already strained GDP. But we need to be cognisant of the impact of jobs, despite the improved safety related aspects of autonomous operations.

 “At Schneider Electric we have already experienced digital transformation in our own teams and the impact that a digital frontier requires on different working methods and work activities. Our technologies are developed with the digital worker in mind, along with the built-in capability of integration of a highly mobile or transient workforce,” says Ramsay.

Studies have documented that the workforce of the future will on average not stay in their jobs for more than 36 months, and this transition will be amplified in the mining environment which requires a new level of rapid induction and orientation, along with the workforce having on-hand access to latent or “hidden” operational knowledge.

“These topics drive our research and development teams. The good news is that digitisation is not only driving our customers, but also enabling our internal research and development teams to incorporate previously inaccessible technologies which can be incorporated into our products, in a plug and play type manner. I guess that is the beauty of open standards and the adoption of industry protocols, which has always been Schneider Electrics mantra,” says Ramsay.

“Of all the trends impacting the mining industry, few will be as critical as effective digitalisation. It will affect every aspect of the industrial operation and provide the greatest potential for improving business and operational efficiency,” adds Ramsay.

“The rewards are significant for those willing to explore the potential. It’s been estimated that in the next five years, mining industry leaders will achieve their most significant improvements by embracing digital technologies, such as IoT, advanced analytics and augmented reality that can harness the power of big data in a secure way,” concludes Ramsay. 

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