How does a mining company connect its physical systems to a virtual platform that interlocks the mine, its planners, managers, suppliers, logistics and markets, site locations, designs, machines and people?
How to implement a cloud solution is relatively simple. What to implement takes some thought. Operationally, the question is where and when. From a business case perspective, the first question should be why.
First the business case. Do you really have one? In concrete terms, explain why you would want the business to run from the cloud. If you can’t do this, then you can’t formulate clear goals.
Mining increasingly depends on sensor-driven processes and automated equipment that demand reliable, continuous, fast connectivity for short interval control processes, for instance. These physical systems must integrate with supply chain management and planning oversight through a data and simulation control platform.
A cloud solution must support all that.
Choosing the Right Cloud Architecture
As we discussed in an earlier post, there are different options to consider when it comes to cloud deployment. Most mining operations use a hybrid cloud configuration, which enables many cost-effective options offered by cloud providers, combined with edge and mesh networks on a local private network with dedicated infrastructure. In mine sites, wireless mesh networking uses intelligent sensors to make each person and piece of equipment a self-meshing node that carries and extends the network throughout the operation.
For remote mining sites, edge servers are deployed close to users in a location-sensitive form of distributed computing that limits the amount of data required to be streamed to the cloud. Low-power, low-cost IoT sensors communicate via cellular network, which reduces the need for high bandwidth connections. Edge computing improves response times (latency) needed for processes such as short interval control and provides an attractive solution for data-intensive processes that require fast transaction rates with lower risks of interruptions.
Such an architecture integrates Information Technology (IT) assets for communication systems and Operational Technology (OT) assets that control components and cyber physical devices that drill, dig, load, haul, crush, convey, sense and monitor. Companies use this approach to push the right data, at the right time to the right people to optimize value while operating. All stakeholders are in the loop, from management to equipment and people on the ground.
Migrating to the Cloud
Cloud applications are not new in mining. BHP, Rio Tinto and Anglo American have established remote operation control centers in capital cities across Australia, for instance. There, companies have centralized control and remote operation of unmanned mining trucks and automated railway transportation systems more than 1,000 kilometers away. They have integrated supply chain enabling a central view of processes from mine to port. Other mining companies in platinum, gold, iron ore, and diamond production have adopted cloud-based mineral resource planning and business process management platforms.
If you’ve developed a clear business case and decided what processes and functions to put on the cloud, then you can begin developing a migration plan. Even after careful deliberation, in consultation with IT and operations experts, close review of cloud vendors, detailed inventory of IT and OT assets and careful planning of project timelines, most experts recommend starting small. Avoid grand undertakings with multiple applications. Baby steps, test, learn, move on to next steps.
In our next and final article in this series, we look ahead at trends shaping cloud adoption as well as emerging technologies that could mark the future of mining.
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