Coal Age

DEC 2018

Coal Age Magazine - For more than 100 years, Coal Age has been the magazine that readers can trust for guidance and insight on this important industry.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 37 of 59

36 December 2018 digital twins Miners Turn to Digital Twins for Asset Performance Gains For mining, the benefits extend upstream from the plant Digital twins are among the newest mem- bers of mining's extended family, part of an industry-wide adoption process aimed at maximizing the value of its big-data col- lection efforts and improving the perfor- mance of physical assets. The digital twin concept isn't new. It was developed years ago by the Nation- al Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to mirror systems on board remote spacecraft for monitoring and maintenance purposes. It gained traction in the manufac- turing sector and has grown in importance, becoming an integral element in the "In- dustry 4.0" blueprint envisioned for man- ufacturing and process industries where it joins artificial intelligence, machine learn- ing and real-time data as foundation tech- nologies for future business optimization. In a nutshell, Industry 4.0 seeks to leverage automation and data exchange capabilities in development of "smart plants." But, for mining, the implications and potential ben- efits extend beyond the conventional plant site, reaching upstream into the mine and downstream to ports and terminals. Riding on the back of astonishingly rap- id advances in IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operational Technology) capabil- ities, digital twin solutions are now being offered as an effective technique for provid- ing a complete digital picture of a product from design to the end of its life cycle. Over the past few years, an increasing number of mineral producers see the concept as a promising tool for optimizing mine to mill operations — and are using it in a variety of ways. For example, Tony O'Neill, technical director for Anglo American, described how the company is applying the concept in a recent interview with Bloomberg: "We're already starting to use digital twins to optimize our mining fleet. We use them to reduce diesel consumption on our trucks and we are also putting digital twins across pipelines, smelters and refineries. Today, we use analytics for real-time drill- ing analysis, hyper-spectral core imaging, and geological modeling software using 3D and virtual-reality technology to gen- erate and interpret predictive data models. "Our latest work uses customized learning algorithms to predict control pa- rameters required by our plants. Another important application is condition mon- itoring and predictive maintenance. The logical end-point is a fully integrated, sys- tematized, and self-learning operation that will help remove the uncertainty and huge variability that characterizes mining today." Asked how the company would go about implementing a digital twin to make a mining process more efficient, O'Neill explained, "A machine, whether it's a pipe- line, a truck or a smelter, has a theoretical way of behaving and as soon as you can start to measure the behavior as variants, then we can intervene. "We will use our digital twin to learn from the physical machine and then to ac- tually change its behavior [from simulat- ing how it acts in a virtual sense]. By using a digital twin, we can make our processes more effective and efficient. "We've used digital twins in Chile at the Los Bronces mining site, where we imple- mented them into the haulage fleet to track the actual performance," he continued. "We've got a 500-kilometer pipeline in Bra- zil and we've put a digital twin onto that." In addition, O'Neill also mentioned that "Where people have gone digital, they've generally seen around a 30% im- provement in their business — made up of approximately 15% in productivity and 15% in cost savings." Miners interested in adopting the digital twin concept need to consider the cost ver- sus benefits tradeoffs carefully. As an execu- tive for South African coal miner Exxaro Re- sources recently noted, not all mines are top candidates for digital twin implementation. Exxaro broke ground on its Belfast Implementation Project (BIP) at the be- ginning of July. Among the mine's major features is a two-stage, 500-tons-per-hour (tph) Dense Medium Separation (DMS) plant and a Fines DMS and filter section. The plant will primarily produce A-Grade, export-quality coal (typical 6,000 kcal/kg) at a projected volume of 2.2 million metric tons per year (mtpy) and about a 500,000 mt of a secondary-quality product (typical 21.5 MJ/kg) for local use or export. The new Exxaro Resources, which produces thermal and coking coal from five managed mines in South Africa, intends to leverage the capabilities of digital twin technology to optimize operations at its R3.3 billion Belfast mine project. (Photo: Exxaro Resources)

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Coal Age - DEC 2018