As productivity remains the number one operational risk in the mining sector, future digital transformation in the mining and metals sector will be critical.

Through adequate use of digital, coupled with a manufacturing mind-set, which focuses on productivity across the entire end-to-end operation, mining companies can better manage variability and improve productivity, says Africa Advisory Mining & Metals leader, Wim Hoogedeure.

This follows the release of EY’s global report, The digital disconnect: problem or pathway?, for which 31% of 700 global respondents in the sector say digital is high on the agenda for their organisation, while 15% say it is not on the agenda at all.

“Using digital to navigate the productivity transformation should start with clarity of purpose, and understanding where it will create value. The next step to developing an over-arching, integrated 3-5 year road map of digital initiatives, that are margin accretive, is understanding what that requires in terms of governance, leadership, culture, capacity, capability, and digital process maturity”, says Hoogedeure.

Digital can enable new ways to drive productivity, manage the variability challenges of the sector and pursue commercial excellence.

Some examples of what mining and metals companies can achieve with the right focus on digital include:

  1. Optimising plans and productivity rates across any operation and managing variability under any conditions: Digital will enable this through combining detailed ore body data with equipment operational and maintenance data, in a real-time environment, to produce alternative operating plans and the ability to refine these plans for variability.
  2. Enhancing asset availability and reliability: A move to digitally enabled predictive maintenance would allow for the extension of maintenance windows, reduced component and labour costs, and the minimisation of costly breakdown events. Further, once the effective maintenance practices are standardised, the introduction of robotic process automation and schedule optimisation tools is possible.
  3. Understanding true end-to-end capability and systems bottlenecks, and supporting loss elimination: This is fundamental to the manufacturing excellence mind-set.
  4. Increasing agility and responsiveness to changes in market factors, such as freight rates and customers’ buying behaviour trends: This would optimise shipping and scheduling to reduce demurrage, maximise port utilisation and also enable miners to capture spot markets and price premiums via sales contracted at different points of the value chain.

“When viewed through the correct lens, digital becomes part of an end-to-end process change where the mining sector will achieve its next level of productivity. It is less about when to go digital and more about how to successfully operate in a digital world. Mining companies that will win in the digital age are those that use digital to solve business problems,” concludes Hoogedeure.

Feature image credit: Wikimedia