Business agility and innovation in the mining & manufacturing industries

Jan 15, 2019 12:15:00 PM

Innovation in the manufacturing industryWhen people talk about ‘business agility’ industries like mining and manufacturing are not usually first to mind.

But while the notion of business agility has always been associated with lean start-ups and small businesses, for mining and manufacturing organisations, being able to change with the times and embrace new technology to reduce costs and drive efficiency is now more important than ever. 

Old methods have to change – and executives across industrial manufacturing are aware of the importance of innovation and business agility.

According to PWC’s research report 'Rethinking innovation in industrial manufacturing', 92% percent of the industrial manufacturing executives reviewed say innovation is important to future revenue growth.

But while 92% of industrial manufacturing executives say that innovation in the manufacturing industry is important to future revenue growth, only two-thirds of executives across the sector believe their companies have a well-defined innovation strategy.

On the other hand, the mining industry is under “tremendous pressure to integrate innovation into core business operations” says Deloitte. A barrage of new regulations, declining grades, complex geologies and spiralling stakeholder expectations are assailing mining companies and they must look for ways to improve productivity whilst keeping costs low.

Despite mining and manufacturing operations working with tight budgets and the fact that new technology has been slow to penetrate mining and manufacturing, to actually succeed in the modern era, having the right technology is key.

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The rise of digital technology and innovation in the mining and manufacturing industries

Mining and manufacturing operations across the world have already embraced a number of digital solutions – including robotics, automation, remote monitoring, machine learning and much more – to help drive productivity and keep employees safe.

According to Accenture’s Digital in Mining report, 82% of the executives reviewed expect to increase investments in digital technology over the next three years – and 28% expect that investment to be significant.

Similarly, digital technology is making an impression on the manufacturing sector, says Fujitsu, with 95% of its survey’s respondents admitting that their business needs to evolve to thrive.

Leading manufacturers are already on board with digital solutions, using advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to glean new insight from the large amounts of data they produce. With the help of connected devices, nearly every device in a modern mine or manufacturing environment is “smart” and constantly relaying important information to a central database. With this information, managers can make decisions based on real-time data to help improve efficiency, safety and productivity.

But to actually benefit from new technology, it needs to be aligned with business objectives.

When it comes to ongoing operational costs, the upfront cost of machinery can often pale in comparison to the continuing price of consumables and replacement parts.

For any mine or manufacturing operation, technology should (and needs to) expand business capability. For example, if the objective is mine-wide visibility and improved safety, real-time monitoring solutions enable mine operators on the ground to quickly assess the surrounding environment, checking for hazardous gases and structural failure. These remote monitoring tools can be held by the operator or installed throughout the mine to create a monitoring network.

While in manufacturing, for example, if the objective is increased productivity and product quality, robots and machine learning can be used to automate the production line to perfection. Employees teach the robot using machine learning algorithms to produce products a certain way. Any products which fail to meet the prescribed standard are automatically flagged and removed from the production line. Employees then have more time to focus on analytics and improving processes rather than manual labour. Smart technology is paving the way, no doubt – but how can it be used to expand operations?


How smart mining technology is making it easier to plan and expand operations

One of the main challenges for mine operations in the past was expanding the site in a cost-effective manner. In those days, they lacked the machinery to excavate areas of the site, visibility into new regions, and the software to plan the process. Any expansion activity took months to plan and justify as geotechnical specialists evaluated the site.

These days, most mining operations have some form of planning software that helps them to plan the initial project and expand where necessary, and new emerging technology is further sophisticated still. Smart mining technology is making it easier to plan and expand operations – 3D modelling, scanners and mine planning software have revolutionised the way miners map underground assets, taking the guesswork out of where and what to develop, as well as the reducing costs and downtime arising from planned expansion activity.

In addition to mapping out the structure of the mine, these technologies can also identify structural faults such as weak ground and provide a number of options for access tunnels. Using this process, mine expansion plans can be developed in hours, not months, and key decision-makers and non-essential personnel do not need to go into the mine to “get a feel” for the environment.


The future of mining and manufacturing

In the future, mining and manufacturing operations will be built around automated processes and connected technology in a bid to streamline activities and be more “agile”. More so than other industries, mining and manufacturing are always trying to reduce costs and improve productivity. Robotics, automation and machine learning ultimately provide the means to automate the more labour-intensive and menial aspects of the job, while analytics, remote monitoring, and wearable technology give employees and managers greater insight into operational performance.

As machines manage the “heavily lifting”, employees can look to assessing operational performance and coming up with strategies that utilise their current technology to the utmost to deliver greater returns and reduce costs – a truly agile approach to business productivity.

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Written by Trolex News