Industrial Internet of Things helps shape the future of mining

Louise Davis

In our digitally connected world, technology is increasingly impacting and driving most industrial sectors, including mining. Across these industries, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is growing in prominence, with an expanding array of objects communicating, exchanging data and functioning autonomously.

A key development in IIoT is the use of sensors to collect large amounts of data from mining equipment, which is subsequently analysed and transformed into actionable insights for operators.

In an industry that depends on the efficiency and reliability of their assets, this delivers a number of benefits including improved performance and productivity and the avoidance of unplanned downtime.

Mining engineering expert Weir recognised this trend several years ago. It developed its own IIoT platform called Synertex. Spanning technology, innovation, expertise and knowledge, Synertrex was developed to make optimal performance a reality.  

Although IIoT usage within the mining industry is still in its early stages, a 2017 Inmarsat study found that 12% of mining respondents have already fully or partially implemented IIoT based solutions into their operations. Furthermore, the World Economic Forum predicts that in the period 2016-2025, digital transformation could impact the mining industry by between US$428 billion and US$784 billion.

Such an ambitious prediction seems justified when the benefits of IIoT to the resources sector are considered.

Productivity is a key advantage. IIoT platforms such as Weir’s can provide fact-based insights that allow operators to optimise equipment performance and increase throughput. Predictive maintenance helps detect problems so equipment can be repaired before it fails, saving money through the reduction of unplanned downtime while increasing safety.

Weir’s platform delivers these advantages, and more. Its draws upon the firm’s knowledge and expertise, as well as that of its technology partners, Dell and Microsoft. Using critical operating data to generate fact-based insights, customers can monitor their equipment anywhere, anytime.   

The portfolio of Synertrex-enabled products within the platform includes Warman pumps, Cavex hydrocyclones, Geho PD pumps, Enduron HPGR, Enduron screens and Enduron crushers.

Whereas some other mining based IIoT solutions leverage other suppliers platforms, Weir has developed its own solution, providing the ability to quickly develop and release a product application. It developed the platform as an augmentation of its key products, as opposed to creating a generic platform that can support many different companies and products. Embedding its application engineering expertise in an IIoT platform allows the company to extend its service further and be closer to the customer, with engineers and technicians ready to follow up on any alerts generated by the platform.

The advantage of creating a modular platform means that it can support a variety of users from novice to expert. Its user-friendly interface is compatible with PCs, smartphones and tablets and can be integrated into existing control systems for ultimate accessibility.

The platform allows users to gain an advanced understanding of how their equipment is functioning, from detecting cavitation in Warman pumps to monitoring the drivetrain of Enduron HPGRs.

Comprised of a combination of hardware and software, the platform uses advanced technology from experts including Microsoft and Dell. Weir has industrialised and ruggedised this equipment to create a configuration that is suitable for its customers’ specific industries and applications. Possessing this high degree of flexibility has allowed the firm to provide customers with targeted solutions at a competitive cost point.

Edge computing merits

Another point of difference is the platform’s implementation of edge computing. This enables the provision of alerts in real time, and circumvents issues with data transmission if there is a break in connectivity. A considerable amount of operational data is analysed and summarised on the edge, which reduces the need to transmit large quantities of information to the cloud. Any anomalies are flagged and sent to the cloud for further analysis, resulting in increased cost efficiency from a data viewpoint.

The analytical capabilities of edge computing combined with the almost infinite storage capacity of the cloud enables the solution to capture more data than ever before. Increased data results in more powerful, in-depth insights that provide its customers with meaningful information as to how they can improve their equipment, processes and plants.

Alasdair Monk, group IoT product management director, remarks “Synertrex has been a huge advancement. I believe we are part of significant change in the mining industry and broader world, from a digital perspective, and that puts us in a very good position to build and grow.”

The new platform’s ability to adapt to the mining industry’s dynamic needs emphasises the point that IIoT will play an important role in shaping the sector’s future.

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