Recently, momentum has shifted gears, with some of the biggest mining companies and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) casting aside any initial reservations to collaborate on projects that could be real game-changers for the industry.
Outsiders looking in would assume that this was born out of necessity, with commodity prices exhibiting substantial drops from their multi-year highs. However, the influx of data and technology into the sector, in addition to increased scrutiny on how miners operate, has meant that now, more than ever, companies need to employ best practices across the board.
As Heather Ednie, managing director of the Global Mining Standards and Guidelines Group (GMSG), says: “The industry has, in my view, really embraced collaboration and broken down silos.”
GMSG is one of many groups looking to improve the implementation of guidelines, standards and best practices across the industry. It has around 60 member companies from multiple stakeholders including some of the big mining companies such as Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, technology providers, OEMs and consultants.
At the moment it has formalised 10 working groups, which look at issues such as integrated operations, data usage and access, comminution efficiency and on-board technology and connectivity, to name a few.
“Working groups are struck when a group of stakeholders brings forward a proposal to address a critical challenge that is common across the industry, for which a guideline or a standard is a necessary stepping stone to solve that challenge.
"Essentially, stakeholders are looking to collaborate when finding their own solution proves ineffective,” Ednie adds.
The organisation was set up three years ago and, to date, much of its work has focused on technology and data.
“A lot of our projects are focused in the data area, which makes sense for mining. The technology boom we had is now catching up, with companies grappling with many proprietary systems, and people are asking how we can catch up together. In a lot of these areas, companies are seeking solutions internally, but that has led to additional effort every time they integrate a new system or update an existing one, so we are aiming to drive global collaboration that will take the extra effort and resources off their back and develop open solutions,” she says.
GMSG is part of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) and also supported by four other partner organisations including the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME), Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM), Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM), and the Surface Mining Association for Research and Technology (SMART).
“There is always a large effort before we get involved in any area of study to look outwards. As a result, we have developed collaborative relationships with many other organisations,” Ednie tells Mining Magazine.
Such organisations include the Germany-based International Rock Excavation Data Exchange Standard (IREDES), the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution (CEEC) and the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table (EMESRT).
Essentially, GMSG tries to “make that development work accessible, globally”, according to Ednie.
One of the many working groups GMSG has up and running is developing a mining application programming interface, or API, guideline for use with on-board devices in mobile equipment, which is currently in review.
Peter Wan, Teck Resources’ principal advisor for mining technology and the leader of the working group, gave Mining Magazine some insight into the project.
“Our focus is not about the bits and the bytes, it’s about how you get data from the device out to the network,” he explains.
“For that, we looked at other industries to see what worked elsewhere and we determined that the best way forward would be to develop a standard API allowing everyone to publish their data with control of what data is publicly available and how it’s presented, while users could subscribe to data feeds to use common data,” he says.
To illustrate the problem and the need for a guideline, Wan gives the example of GPS antennas on a haul truck.
“Trucks run multiple applications from fleet-management systems to asset health to tyre and fatigue monitoring and so on.
Every single one of them uses GPS for determining the truck’s location and/or speed – for example, to georeference engine alarms or initiate monitoring of operator fatigue. You end up with a haul truck with four or five GPS antennas, which all require maintenance, support and need to be erected on masts,” he says.
Using a data-sharing API, operators could have a single GPS antenna and applications could receive the truck’s speed and/or location through a subscription service.
The group has produced a guideline document, outlining what the group thinks an API should look like.
It is working on getting feedback on the project, which will include comment on the factors considered so far in the development – data security, frequency of feed, the mechanism that is made available, etc. – in addition to trials in the field.
“We’ve identified a number of mines where the mining company is interested in sharing data between applications and you have vendors involved that are willing to develop this API model on-board, as well,” Wan comments.
One miner lined up for a trial in Australia has MineWare software on its shovels and draglines, in addition to Cat MineStar. “The API will allow shovel swing information to be shared between the MineWare and Cat MineStar systems,” Wan says.
The API could also be trialled at one of Teck’s mines, according to Wan.
“At our coal mines we have already developed a custom data share for the GPS to be shared between our Wenco fleet-management system and Seeing Machines fatigue-monitoring systems. It’s possible we could migrate this to the API standard we are shaping here and also have our Matrikon asset-health system subscribe to the same GPS source,” he says.
GMSG also has an underground working group focused on the IREDES protocol – an industry standard to unify routines for data exchange between mining equipment and office computer systems.
Ednie states that the working group will publish an IREDES users’ guideline by summer. “The intent is once we have a user’s guideline to move it forward as a seed document for an ISO standard,” she says.
Both IREDES and GMSG are working together to formalise the protocol as an international ISO standard by officially proposing the IREDES protocol to the ISO Technical Committee (TC)/82 on mining.
IREDES’ chairman Christoph Mueller notes that the protocol is already having an impact in the industry in its current form.
“Numerous projects have shown that the IREDES standardised information exchange was the precondition for efficient operation of modern equipment which will become more important in the future when mining companies start to increase efficiency by optimisation of their entire operational processes,” he says.
Comminution is the most energy-intensive part of the integrated mining process. According to CEEC, 53% of energy consumption on site in the mining process comes from crushing and grinding.
Therefore, any efficiency improvements made to these circuits will have a significant effect on mine-site productivity.
CEEC has been working since 2011 to address the challenge of improving comminution efficiency. At its 2014 workshop focusing on best practice and benchmarking, CEEC made a breakthrough with participants agreeing to populate energy curves for commodities such as gold by October 2015, with copper, platinum and nickel to follow.
They also agreed to adopt the guidelines of the Industrial Comminution (ICE) standards working group within GMSG, which will include guidelines for metrics and methodologies to enable benchmarking of individual comminution efficiency within the hard-rock mining sector.
Ednie says that the guidelines standardise existing metrics to enable comparable results, allowing companies to benchmark their efficiency across global operations.
“In the end, we will be able to develop a benchmarking database so companies would be able to tell how efficient their circuit is. You can’t do that now,” she says.
Sarah Boucaut, CEEC’s executive officer, adds that the adoption of the ICE guidelines will aid comparable data analysis.
Energy-efficiency comparison will form part of a company’s plans to find out it they can potential improve its efficiency, she says.
At the workshop last year in Vancouver, Grant Ballantyne, a research fellow at the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre in Queensland, Australia, presented a survey of the comminution energy use of gold and copper mines, covering around 15% and 24% of global production, respectively.
In this study, Ballantyne was able to show the comminution energy per unit of metal produced, which was presented in graphical form similar to industry-standard cost curves.
The database Ballantyne constructed allows individual mines to be ranked with respect to specific energy efficiency, while reflecting the potential energy and cost benefits of more efficient operating regimes, according to Boucaut.
“The applications of energy curves are many and varied. They can be used to map the position of the mine as production progresses with year-on-year analysis. Circuit design proposals can be compared to assess the position of the mine on the energy curve when operational. Operational efficiency improvements can be mapped on the curves to visually assess the potential magnitude of reductions achievable through various strategies,” she explains.
CEEC is gearing up to launch a secure portal on its website where operators will be able to enter their operating data confidentially to assess their energy-efficiency position on a curve. The programme, developed by Ballantyne, allows modelling and real-time analysis, enabling miners to compare alternative flow sheets with their current operations.
Health, safety and the environment are always going to be huge considerations in the mining industry and it is no surprise that standards and guidelines are being developed around these.
One such example is EMESRT, a global initiative involving 14 companies, which engages with key mining-industry OEMs to advance the design of equipment to improve safe operability and maintainability beyond standards.
Back in 2006, EMESRT took initial steps towards establishing an engagement process between OEMs and mining customers designed to accelerate the development and adoption of leading practice designs of earth-moving equipment in order to minimise health-and-safety risks.
“The outcome of this alignment has been the development of design philosophies (DP) that present a common viewpoint on objectives, general design outcomes and risks or, in general terms, the ‘problems’ to be mitigated,” EMESRT says.
“These design philosophies outline the key issues where improved human-factor designs could reduce unwanted events associated with equipment operation or maintenance.”
The initiative aims to be proactive, as opposed to reactive, working with OEMS to improve designs of equipment before machines go into production.
It has working groups looking at existing DP content for equipment in surface mines, underground hard-rock and coal operations and exploration drilling.
EMESRT has already devised a task-based design evaluation process known as the EMESRT Design Evaluation for EME Procurement (EDEEP), aimed to provide both OEMs and EMESRT members a means to effectively identify the degree to which a piece of equipment meets the intent of the DP information.
This document is designed to ensure that OEMs provide information to the purchasers of earth-moving equipment, which demonstrate their actions towards minimising and mitigating risk within maintenance and operability tasks, through the use of design controls.
It has also developed a training method called the design operability and maintainability analysis technique (OMAT), a task-oriented risk assessment developed to help designers identify and understand the human factor issues associated with operating and maintaining equipment. It aims to ultimately eliminate design-related safety issues through strategic hazard identification, risk ranking and control selection.
EMESRT member companies and OEMs are currently using OMAT to identify and eliminate manual-handling and access and egress issues on surface mining haul trucks, according to the initiative.
Interaction with earth-moving equipment is just one overarching health-and-safety principle in need of continuous improvement.
The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), an industry body created by leading mining and metals companies to “catalyse strong environmental and social performance in the sector”, has recently released guidance on preventing the most serious types of health-and-safety incidents in mining and metals.
Its ‘Health and Safety Critical Control Management Good Practice Guide’ publication is another proactive piece of guidance that could benefit safety procedures across the industry.
“Evidence from major incidents in mining and metals, and in other industries, indicates that although the risks were known, the controls were not always effectively implemented,” the ICMM says.
The publication is designed to identify and manage acts, objects or systems on site, providing guidance on the critical controls that need to be in place to either prevent a serious incident occurring, or minimise the consequences if a serious incident occurs.
The critical control management (CCM) process is well established and used in many high-hazard industries, according to ICMM. However, this is the first time this approach has been captured in a single document designed specifically for the mining and metals industry, it states.
Much of this guidance is focused on identifying and preventing material unwanted events (MUEs) in the mining and metals industry. The ICMM lists several potential situations that need to be considered, including: aviation, underground ground control, underground fire and explosion, heavy mining equipment, dropped objects, pressurised systems, confined spaces, inrush/inundation, explosives, high wall stability, flammable gas, light vehicles, work at height, electricity and hazardous materials.
The publication presents nine steps to a company effectively adopting the process, including:
- A plan describing the scope of the project, including the objectives, participants and timescales;
- Identify MUEs that need to be managed;
- Identify controls for MUEs – both existing and, possibly, new;
- Identify the critical controls for the MUE;
- Define the critical controls’ objectives, performance requirements and how performance is verified in practice;
- Come up with a list of the owners for each MUE, critical control and verification activity, with a verification and reporting plan developed to report on the health of each control;
- Define MUE verification and reporting plans and an implementation strategy based on site-specific requirements;
- Implement verification activities and report on the process. Define and report on the status of each critical control; and
- Make sure critical control and MUE owners are aware of critical control performance. If critical controls are underperforming or, following an incident, investigate and take action to improve performance or remove critical status from controls.
The council also published a CCM journey model and mapping tool designed to help organisations assess their maturity and readiness in adopting the process, which could highlight any groundwork needed to be carried out before implementing the guidelines.
The fact that many of these organisations have been popping up in recent years offering guidelines and protocols to follow is good news for the wider industry.
This type of collaboration between OEMs, mining companies and regulators has not been seen for many years and offers many opportunities going forward. By adopting some of these principles, cost savings can be made, health and safety improved and corporate and social responsibility enhanced.