Western Australian mining giant Roy Hill had a problem: A significant number of vital lighting towers that illuminate mining tenements were simply being lost between shifts.
The $10 billion Roy Hill iron ore mine – majority owned by Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting company – is the most recent mine to open in the Pilbara region. It consists of a 344 kilometre railway line, a process plant and a two berth port.
Previously, mining field workers would monitor and control lighting towers in the mining pit, which was a costly and time consuming exercise, Roy Hill’s general manager, technology, Rebbecca Kerr, told the audience at the recent CIO Summit in Perth.
“You would be surprised how many lighting towers would go missing between shifts,” Kerr said. “Once they found them, often [the lights] had no fuel so they had to go and get maintenance to [refuel them]. Our strategy was to drive around at night looking for the lights for refuelling.”
To overcome the problem, Roy Hill has installed a GPS telemetry solution on the lighting towers, which provides field workers using mobile tablets with maintenance information – gathered by IoT sensors – such as how long towers have been switched on and how much fuel has been burned by their generators. This helps them make decisions that will cut energy costs for the mine.
The solution also adjusts lighting levels during sunrise and sunset and automatically reduces lighting during planned shutdowns.
“The [towers] can also be turned on and off now by users back at the remote operations centre,” said Kerr. “We seemed to have lost way less of our lighting towers since then.”
The miner is also looking at placing IoT sensors on conveyors, which Kerr said generate “buckets and buckets of data.”
“We have a reference architecture that we can apply to that,” she said. “So when the vendors come to the operational people and they ask us how that might fit in with our approach, we can articulate to them what the requirements are of that vendor and what would be a good outcome for the business.”
Roy Hill’s IT team is also using data analytics to gather data from every point of the mining operation from the processing plant to port. Early last year, the company engaged Ajilon to provide a business analytics platform that runs on Microsoft Azure.
To create the platform, Ajilon had a direct line to the development team at Microsoft’s Redmond research campus.
“You need to be able to explore and understand the data and, in particular, how the data relates to itself,” Andrew Hall, manager, technology planning and architecture at Roy Hill said at the time.
“We don’t want to be doing analysis that takes days to run. We want to be able to run multiple scenarios in a time-effective way,” he said.
Hall said at the time that Roy Hill wanted to go beyond using Azure as a static analysis environment.
“If we want to change driver attitudes or we want to optimise performance, we need to do it in real time,” Hall told CIO Australia last year. “You need to be providing feedback at the appropriate times so appropriate action can be taken.”
In some cases, that may be at the start of a worker’s shift and in others that might mean immediate corrective action, he said.