Every mining project has a unique risk profile, whether it be financial, labor and materials availability or commodities prices. In fact, the sheer complexity, capital investment and decades-long timelines involved makes mining projects some of the most risk-intensive in the world. There is a constant need to understand the eddy of these factors and how they may impact project execution.
Augmented intelligence – the combination of human experience, risk intelligence and artificial intelligence – has much to offer mining projects in this respect. The confluence of these three elements creates the ultimate asset in any mine operator’s toolbox: project confidence.
For investors and project owners working in such a capital-intensive industry, data-driven augmented intelligence is fast becoming the new must-have to mitigate investment risk. An integrated approach to data that offers unrivaled visibility, ultimately leads to better decisions, made more quickly and confidently.
While the staged opening of mining sites is an age-old technique, this new level of visibility allows owners to more readily limit risk exposure to supply and demand shocks while maximizing productivity. In practice, owners can adapt the staging of their mine to respond to demand as it is identified, quickly mobilizing workforce and construction resources to expand the project to maximize the benefit.
For schedulers, this coming together of different strands of intelligence supports their decision-making and planning capabilities, highlighting potential risks and decision gates, all underpinned by a degree of confidence not possible before. It is the depth of the underlying data, sourced from across the project and from projects before it, that takes the guesswork out of project planning once and for all.
Mining has always been an industry mindful of managing costs and data over the long term, given the large volume that is created over an asset’s life cycle. That said, in a previous life, it meant keeping hundreds of thousands of paper records stored away in a forgotten file room somewhere. While optical character recognition has now made these documents searchable, in the meantime many operators relied heavily on the knowledge and experience of their people to get the job done.
Until the advent of advanced digital technologies, the smooth execution of many mining functions was down to the personal ability of just a few, highly skilled professionals. On a day-to-day basis, schedulers would revise workface plans to account for innumerable schedule edits; it was an art as much as it was a job function. Many schedulers would rely primarily on their personal recollection of what had worked before to keep their current project on time and to budget against the initial iteration of the schedule. The relative success or failure of a project was underlined by the professional’s ability to retain, translate and share their personal IP and experience to new projects.
But, as mining projects have become increasingly complex, the spreadsheet plus personal IP approach no longer best serves the requirements of businesses today. Increasingly, mine operators find themselves in need of an intelligent solution that combines the latest advances in digitalization with the very best of the workforce – one that can leverage the experience of the past and apply it to the future.
Digitalizing corporate IP
Through digitalization, companies can better utilize their corporate IP to more effectively influence today’s project decisions. As an example, by creating a knowledge database of schedules, capturing the experience of those who worked upon them and cataloguing the project’s milestones, today’s schedulers have access to an unrivaled bank of knowledge from which to inform their latest project.
They no longer need to operate in a silo. While knowledge sharing has always been an integral business function, augmented intelligence allows it to happen rapidly, and often seamlessly. Through technology, schedulers can canvas the opinion of colleagues from across the site to collaborate on a plan; thought leaders, decision makers and stakeholders can consolidate their views and agree on next steps. This, underpinned by the power to lean on insight from the past, means today’s scheduler has an unrivaled ability to plan the most effective path of construction.
Augmented intelligence is also useful for bringing new recruits or existing colleagues up to speed on a project more quickly so they, too, can make better decisions. It’s a capability that helps the industry keep pace with the everchanging nature of their jobs too. While humans have an amazing ability to adapt and remain agile, having such powerful insights available provides a level of reassurance perhaps not experienced in the past.
All of these newfound capabilities are giving rise to new roles within mining, for those who can analyze and interpret data to understand trends. In the age of the data-rich company, operators are challenged with finding the best way to collate and organize their data into a single source of project truth. With the right software and processes in place, a single information repository can be created, allowing stakeholders to access the most up-to-date and complete version of a project’s plan or schedule from any location in the world. With this information at their fingertips, everyone can make the right decisions at the right time.
Remote working in 3D
The ability to collaborate in this way helps solve one of the long-standing workforce issues frequently faced by mining operators. In the past, many had difficulty attracting employees to work in unsociably remote locations, hundreds of miles away from their families. Now, through advances in digital technologies, colleagues from all corners of the globe can work together seamlessly from a single source of information without needing to step foot on site. It’s another step towards the mine of the future.
Further, with the incorporation of geo and spatial modeling and the ability to 3D render it together with project and schedule data, colleagues have an integrated digital twin of the project site – so detailed that it is akin to actually stepping into the site – perhaps even more so. To have such a detailed walkthrough of the site from anywhere in the world at one’s fingertips is a boon for remote working. Integrating new data sources into the repository as they come along, the model is sustainable for the long term too.
The combination of human experience, risk intelligence and artificial intelligence allows for many more factors to be considered as part of mine construction. Augmented intelligence is applicable across a variety of settings, and project confidence for mine operators is one of the foremost benefits of its time.
This article was written by Dan Patterson, Chief Design Officer, InEight. In 2018, InEight acquired BASIS, which Dr. Patterson founded, and he became a member of InEight’s executive leadership team. He now focuses on expanding upon his vision of creating next generation planning and scheduling software solutions for the construction industry.