Virtual ExperienceMarch 12, 2021

Accelerating sustainability in mining with Virtual Twins by Michelle Ash

  Sustainable operations is no longer a matter of if or when…
Avatar Michelle ASH

Sustainable operations is no longer a matter of if or when – it’s a matter of how.

By Michelle ASH, GEOVIA CEO, Dassault Systèmes.

As I mentioned in the eBook “Accelerating Sustainability in Mining and Metals,” investors, regulators, insurers and the public, need a clearer picture of how companies manage sustainability-related questions.

Mining companies are asked to provide data that extends beyond climate to questions around how they serve their full set of stakeholders, such as the diversity of their workforce, the sustainability of their supply chain, or how well they protect their customers’ data. Each company’s prospects for growth are inextricable from its ability to operate sustainably and serve its full set of stakeholders.

Although the rate of technology adoption and digital transformation in the mining and metals industry is picking up, it is slower than the rate at which society expects us to change. We’ve got this ever-widening gap between our capabilities, no matter how much they’re improving, and the capabilities that society expects us to have as mining companies.

Incremental and continuous improvement in productivity, resource use, emissions, waste and energy reduction are critically needed. But such efforts alone are not enough to achieve ambitious goals such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. That requires a fundamental transformation of underlying systems and processes, and virtual twin technologies can be the lever to operationalize sustainability at speed and scale.

What’s the difference between a digital twin and a virtual twin experience?

Digital twins have been in use since the 1960s, and although the technology has advanced, they continue to be 3D CAD models representing a real-world object in isolation.

Virtual twin experiences, however, are a significant step beyond that.  They are scientifically accurate virtual models of real-world objects and systems that can be submitted and tested in sophisticated virtual models of the environments where they will operate. This enables us not only to understand the modeled object, but also to observe and analyze its behaviour in different conditions and scenarios, including solving problems in 4D (3D plus time), and with the use of VR/AR (virtual and augmented reality) tools, so both the problem and solutions can be communicated faster to team groups, which also increases its understanding, collaboration and participation.

That is especially interesting for us in mining, where problems are often multidisciplinary, driven by fundamental sciences such as geology, geomechanics, chemistry and many others, including increasingly ecology and anthropology, and require the communication of complex solutions to groups who may not be experts in that science.

Virtual twins can also reduce the risk of implementing new energy solutions or test chemicals that are less impactful to extract metals or to optimize how we store tailings. They can be used by mining companies themselves or by consultants to help support their customers with their decisions.

In other industries, virtual twins have led to the faster adoption of innovations and the transformation of the industry.  One fantastic example is the Living Heart Project that develops and validates highly accurate personalized digital human heart models. Another example is the application of virtual twins to optimize building construction and management, which might see them reducing the structures’ operating expenses by US$288 billion by 2030 and cutting CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emissions by nearly 7,000 metric tons.

Adoption and benefits of a virtual twin experience in mining

Although the drivers for small, medium and large miners are different, virtual twin technology will continue to decline, making it more accessible and eventually putting them in the reach of all company-sizes, with greater levels of collaboration and innovation in small- to medium-size mining companies .

In fact, we observe the fastest adoption and adaption of technology in medium-sized miners as they benefit from the modular aspects as virtual twins, with greater levels of optimization, collaboration and innovation.

Larger companies with more resources can increase their benefit by adding other integrated processes well beyond mining, such as logistics or metals integration.

Smaller mines and juniors are likely to contract consultants to optimize their operations using part or all of the virtual twins technology and real-time elements to their greatest advantage.

The benefits of a mine virtual twin go beyond. By modeling and simulating complex systems, we make it easier to analyze, test causes and effects, and significantly reduce business and sustainability risks faced by mining operations. Its powerful visualization tools can help users to reduce the speed to get board investment for a new innovation e.g. block caving in the operation or swap to BEV; community acceptance of an innovation could be faster such as in-situ leaching, and the ability to redesign processes with the impacted teams e.g. drillers who are now using semi-automated drills.

Virtual twins will drive universal adoption and will turn into a competitive business advantage for mining companies as it did for companies in other industries. Processes will be analyzed and reviewed at a much faster pace, which will drive changes and bring agility. There’ll also be a drive for cloud solutions, cybersecurity, and interoperability.

To learn more about virtual twins, examples and how it is accelerating sustainability and driving disruption in other industries, read the report Designing Disruption:  The Critical Role of Virtual Twins in Accelerating Sustainability.

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