Digital transformation is now centre stage in the mining sector – an industry which has been slow on the uptake until now but is determined to reap the substantial benefits it offers.

The digital world however, is vast and companies should look to partner with service providers who are leading the way in offering the most advanced technologies that truly deliver on operational efficiency, safety and reduced costs.

Global project and asset services provider Worley is undeniably a leader in achieving these goals through its unparalleled digital service offering, LAURA CORNISH writes.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 1, 2020

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As described by a Forbes journalist, a digital twin is a virtual model of a process, product or service.

It enables the virtual and physical worlds to be paired together, enabling users to analyse processes in order to prevent problems/downtime from occurring. It also helps with forward planning – a huge advantage for the mining sector.

At present, the mining sector is embracing the concept, but generally only at a level that offers limited benefits.

“The 3D world is a great starting place but technology has advanced well beyond this and only when you explore the greater levels of optimisation will you truly start to benefit from what a fully optimised digital twin has to offer,” says Robert Hull, Worley’s Vice President – Mining, Minerals & Metals (MM&M), Africa.

Moving way beyond 3D

Worley is leading the way in digital transformation in the energy, chemicals and resources sectors, and taking digital design capabilities beyond 3D and even 4D.

The company has since 2012 introduced the globally recognised and standardised Building Information Modelling (BIM) principles into its design and execution capabilities.

BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.

“We have introduced the BIM concept to the mining sector and in doing so are creating digital information models that start at 3D level but advancing this through to 7D which contains both graphical and non-graphical information in a common data environment,” Hull outlines.

The information at each dimension stage builds in value as a project’s stages progress until the complete data set can be handed over to the customer at the conclusion of a project, ready for operation.

Each dimension of data offers customers a fuller understanding of their project, from generating accurate programme data to producing accurate estimate costs, and ultimately providing a digital data bank that can be used to drive efficient operation and management and better business outcomes. 

Starting with a 3D model, 4D adds the benefit of a project schedule, providing greater insight throughout the design process. 5D allows control of cost and budget components and captures progress dynamically, allowing the entire project team to visualise project objectives.

Hull says that the company’s 5D BIM was pioneered by the Worley SA office and in 2018 the company really started to promote the values it offers customers. “We have a number of customers who are investing in the incorporation of our 5D BIM model at present,” he confirms.

With its customers recognising the benefits realised through 5D BIM, Worley is now taking 6D and 7D BIM to market as well.

BIM Manager for Worley, Russell Du Plessis, outlines that 6D and 7D BIM allows a planned, pro-active approach to assets that is significantly beneficial, not least in terms of costs.

“Our 6D digital capabilities action the commissioning of a project, while 7D allows for optimal operation.” He adds that, ideally, the information model should continue to evolve during the ‘in use’ phase with updates on repairs, replacements, operational data and diagnostics to further assist with informed and effective future decision making.

“Worley’s 7D design data mapping allows real-time access to operational related metadata for equipment and systems within a project in a virtual or augmented reality environment.

“It provides our customers with a highly valuable electronic asset that can easily geographically integrate details that were previously overlooked in paper files,” Du Plessis continues.

“Thanks to Worley’s extensive project background, it has made quick success of accessing its digital library of equipment specifications to incorporate into its modelling.

“We are consequently able to develop the BIM building blocks for a prototype digital twin in just a few hours,” Hull adds.

Developed to assist in designing sustainable assets, Worley’s 6D data incorporates the Worley SEAL system (Sustainable Engineering for Asset Lifecycle), a unique approach to engineering delivery which integrates technical integrity and safe and sustainable design processes under a common umbrella.

The incorporation of SEAL results in designs that are technically compliant with statutory and customer requirements; meaning assets are safer to build, operate and decommission.

“One of the most important aspects of SEAL is that it also provides us with a framework that considers the full asset cycle and enables our customers to make more sustainable decisions.”

Ultimately, while there are many third party providers offering 3D modelling services to the mining sector, Worley is one of the few companies with in-house digital capabilities, with the know-how and technology to take integrated digital design and BIM right through to 7D.

Du Plessis says that 7D modelling is where true operational functionality lies and also offers customers peace of mind in terms of due diligence in the commissioning process.

Furthermore, this makes 7D BIM a highly valuable tool, providing a transparent and accountable digital record.

“It’s the underlying data that is of value, not the virtual image, as this powerful integrated data makes it possible to provide design accuracy, look pre-emptively forward, and create an intelligent and integrated project scope that runs from the design phase right through to operation and decommissioning,” he notes.

Taking safety to a new level

Worley is constantly working to ensure it maintains its digital forefront position and is currently looking at artificial intelligence mechanisms to improve safety in the industry.

“If utilised correctly, AI can accurately predict accidents by finding, in Worley’s case, safety-related commonalities from previous projects and incorporating that data into our current projects and circumstances, then flag potential accidents during certain times and procedures, thereby enabling personnel to implement the necessary precautions to avoid incidents from occurring,” Hull explains.