MIRS had outstanding participation in Perumin 201914 October 2019
In Peru, the company was selected to present on the challenges of digital transformation and the scope of automation and robotics as a way to stay relevant in the competitive mining market.
While the mining industry has the capabilities and interest to constantly innovate, it still has a long way to go to top the list of technologically advanced industries. While other industries lead the way with highly automated operations and low accident rates, many processes in mining have been carried out in the same way for decades. However, several players have dared to break the status quo, becoming excellent case studies regarding the implementation of disruptive technologies.
Based on what has been evidenced in the industry, Camilo Rodriguez, Business Development Manager at MIRS, addressed the past context of technological advances and robot implementations, supported by the experiences of MIRS and its portfolio of robotic solutions implemented in mining. The event took place in the context of Perumin, the second largest mining convention in the world, held in Arequipa, Peru, from September 16 to 20, and organized by the Peruvian Institute of Mining Engineers.
In a first stage, the paper written by Camilo, “Digital Transformation and the scope of robotics in the Peruvian market. A key to differentiation and survival in mining, Automation hand in hand with Robotics”, was selected among the finalists to have a space in the final stage of the exhibition of the Technology, Innovation and Sustainability Forum (TIS Forum) of the event. The presentation, based on the paper, focused on the challenges and advantages of incorporating technological innovations in the mining industry, aiming at an invitation to innovate concretely.
To introduce the topic, he explained that robotics is a branch of automation that has a direct impact on the productivity of industries, reduction of operational costs, increase in the reliability of processes, and improvements in the health and safety of workers.
“Trial and Success.”
Supported by a 2017-2018 report prepared by Ernest & Young, a leading audit and consulting firm, which points out that in the mining and metals industry there is a clear disconnect between the power of digital transformation and the successful implementation of its technologies. Camilo Rodriguez began his presentation by identifying the difficulties in implementing technology and in particular robotic systems in mining, noting, firstly, the technological barriers when you have the need and the opportunity, but the technological resources are not yet available.
“Technology, in general, is governed by Moore’s Law, which talks about every two years the number of transistors in a microprocessor double, which means that every two years the capacity of computer systems doubles, and that applies to almost any technological advance,” he explained.
In the case of MIRS, Camilo points out that the key has been the development of know-how and learning based on trial and error over the years as a leading company in the implementation of robotic systems that were not originally designed for highly variable environments and where contamination of different types affects any system, as happens in mining. This has led to the implementation of higher technology peripheral elements and the application of artificial intelligence tools that can overcome this type of difficulties to approach the performance of the same systems that are implemented in industries with a high level of control, such as the automotive industry.
Another barrier he identified in the adoption of new technologies is the target market, since, in general, mining companies do not risk investing and pioneering innovation, but wait for others to implement solutions to see their results before adopting them. “Failure in a maintenance or operating system in mining is measured in millions of dollars in losses, that is why risk levels are understood to define the market as early majority or pragmatists and not early adopters. Statements such as “Seeing is believing” or “Where have they been installed before” are common barriers,” said the MIRS executive.
He also mentioned the labor market barrier, since systems that advance hand in hand with Moore’s law produce the so-called “technological unemployment” which, in turn, leads to social and union problems. In this sense, Camilo Rodriguez emphasized the need to create new intelligent jobs, which demand more brain capacity than physical strength, as a challenge to be solved jointly by the client and the workers, supported by suppliers, to seek retraining and relocation of human resources. To further support this effect, suppliers such as MIRS offer training so that customers can improve the skill levels of their workers.
Finally, he referred to the economic barrier and its importance in the implementation, because after the design process, any technological system that revolutionizes a process, as is the case with robotics, may end up in an operation that differs from what was planned, since the principle of Trial and Error governs. Given this and considering the mining market as Early Majority, suppliers must have sufficiently strong financial backing to be able to generate substantial changes in technological advances.
“That is why mining companies must work hand in hand with suppliers, so that this “trial and error” method becomes more of a “trial and success” method, establishing cooperation to achieve better results, based on the co-creation of these systems,” he said.
More than strength
In relation to how the industry adapts and makes the Digital Transformation its own, the presentation mentioned a report by Ernest & Young that is based on a survey of nearly 700 companies and detected 3 interesting factors in this regard.
Firstly, it indicated that the guidelines emanating from the corporate segment and from the boards of directors are not always clear and do not always go down effectively to the local management to exercise and make them understand, with the correct funding, the need for technological implementation. He indicated that these remain very much in ideas or objectives that are too broad but are not implemented in practice because the information is not delivered effectively on how to implement a clear technological roadmap.
Secondly, he mentioned the risks present in local management, “If a plant manager, for example, decides to adopt a technological innovation and that innovation fails and generates millions of dollars in losses for the company, his job will be at risk. The need to maintain job security for local management sometimes hinders the advancement of technological improvements. Of course, you can always find local managers who are daring and are key players in the industry,” said Camilo Rodriguez.
Finally, he pointed out that mining companies tend to buy a ready-made and proven product, without necessarily understanding the technological and economic complexities of its maintenance and implementation.
“The lack of joint work, of co-creation, means that technological innovation processes on the part of suppliers, who often do not have financial backing as MIRS has had during these 15 years, fail before being tested,” said Rodríguez.
Among the exceptions, he mentioned the MIRS robotic solution installed at the Impala Terminals plant in Peru, which automates the process of extracting representative samples of ore from the trucks, reducing the risk of error and bias in the process to its minimum expression in one of the most important processes, the sampling of the final product, which includes all the added value of the production process.
He also presented the Internal and External Mill Maintenance Robot (IMMR and EMMR), the new MIRS robotic solutions for liner replacement in SAG and ball mills, a pioneering process never seen before that eliminates the intervention of people and eliminates the risk of accidents in one of the most dangerous tasks in the mining industry and in the world. Focusing on the future and based on studies by Oxford University and different bibliographic resources, Camilo Rodríguez pointed out that it is expected that in 20 years the Singularity will be reached, that point at which artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence. “We must be prepared for that,” he indicated. “It implies understanding that maintenance and production systems in mining will not only have an obvious deployment of force, but that they can also start to think, and that forces important software improvements, to perfect them and allow them, for example, to be able to correct process failures in situ.”