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Big Data Analytics : the Hottest Disruptive Technology in Mining Right Now?

Data analysis is not a new thing in mining. However, the volume and most importantly the extent to which “big data” analysis is now being used in the sector has taken off over the last 12 – 24 months. Major companies like Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton are unsurprisingly leading the way (and investment levels) with huge projects, but they are far from being the only organisation to uptake the big data trend.

“We’ve seen value immediately. The world is talking about big data and how you use it.” — Sam Walsh, CEO, Rio Tinto, March 2014

Fortescue Metals earlier this year, as reported by IT News, were well on their way to achieving an impressive $30million in savings thanks to intelligent use of real-time productivity reporting that was shared with its field operations teams at Cloudbreak iron ore mine.

Impressively FMGL compiled data from fleet management systems as well as their plant SCADA system in order to identify and fix problems that can occur during each shift, or of course spot efficiency or productivity gains opportunities, such as redirecting a truck from one area of the pit to another. This is a big leap from excel document analysis at the end of each shift. Vito Forte, CIO of Fortescue said “The lessons learned from this project are being applied to numerous other projects that can have direct, measurable benefit to Fortescue”.

Panaust have also been using real time data acquired from their SCADA system in the plant to help maximise plant productivity and efficiency, plus improve the utilisation of fleet equipment. Panaust overhauled their process control system at the Phu Kham copper plant in Laos, using a 5 tier hierarchy approach through the upgrade. Once they reached the holistic control stage, they achieved real-time access to data, which allowed them to achieve a higher level of advanced control, greater operator situational awareness and a more effective production reporting and downtime analysis.

The benefits seen from this project (which Mining IQ reported on in much fuller detail back in May) were extensive, including a rise in the volume of copper recovered, equipment availability increase of 9%, equipment utilisation (of both plant and fleet) improvement of 11% and operating time increased by 12%.

Iluka Resources have also been avidly jumping on the multi-million dollar saving bandwagon that is big data, focusing on their metallurgical accounting system. It’s been an ongoing journey, as big data projects typically are, working closely with their supplier in order to make sure the end system does just what Iluka needs it to for their purposes. Both Iluka and Fortescue emphasised the importance of getting teams involved in any big data project or system upgrade. In the case of Fortescue, they involved IT, Business Improvement and Operations. Iluka brought together IT, Process Engineers, Metallurgists and Commercial to help standardise processes, and configure and test the new system.

Rio Tinto, unsurprisingly, has fully embraced big data and claims to have saved over $80 million through tracking data from both their processing plants and trucks. Their Processing Excellence Centre in Brisbane is the latest development in their Mine of the Future™ technology and innovation programme and allows them to see processing data from 7 operations around the world including Mongolia, the USA and Australia and make real-time decisions through a giant interactive screen. This has already helped them to increase recovery rates of copper and gold at the Oyu Tolgoi processing plant in Mongolia.

BHP Billiton has also secured hundreds of millions of dollars in savings through big data, partly through their 1SAP project and sharing data enterprise wide which allowed significant improvements in maintenance planning and scheduling, plus procurement due to a better understanding of global spend on certain categories.

Miningiq.com