Updated: Feb 14
It’s no secret that the modern mining industry is collecting large amounts of operational data from equipment performance (truck speeds/fuel burn) to sensors placed strategically across a mine such as in the process plant or in field to monitor various geotechnical instruments. I once heard an anecdotal estimate that a large mine-site might collect upwards of 1 Petabyte per day of raw data. While the volume of this data can be intimidating in terms of its management, it can be incredibly useful if managed correctly.
Data driven advances such as cloud technology have improved the ability to collect, store and analyses large amounts of this information and can provide valuable insights as to how a mine can run more efficiently, improving profitability.
At the heart of managing this data, are the software systems that allow miners to collect and analyze it. Familiar systems include mine planning tools, fleet management systems and others such as maintenance platforms that help to plan and better optimize mines. Inevitably, this data in some form is communicated across the corporation and influences corporate budgeting and strategy.
However, most of these systems are still locally hosted on site specific servers, laptops and other devices, making accessing the most up-to-date version a nightmare. For example, when it comes to financial forecasting, many companies still use Excel spreadsheets that are locally hosted, and filled with data provided from mine plans and site-based management teams with much of the information provided entered . pulled out of their discipline specific software, often into into Excel and then manually pushed into financial models. This can of course lead to inaccurate data, and slower reporting times..
With all the data that is being collected and analyzed, the question comes up, why is this all still done primarily on local machines when there have been so many great advancements in cloud solutions? The answer, historically, was sites did not have reliable internet service to accommodate cloud hosted software and data storge, but as more sites get better coverage, this argument breaks down.. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages of cloud solutions and what greater adoption could mean to the mining industry.
Easier to Integrate, Access, Distribute, and Consolidate Data
Probably the biggest advantage of cloud technology is the ability to access, distribute, and consolidate your data quickly, and easily. A big headache of many large-scale industries like mining is that there’s so much data being collected in so many different places, integrating and consolidating that data can be a nightmare. This is especially true when these things are done manually by importing and exporting a series of excel files from multiple sources. Integration of on-premise solutions is almost non-existent, and manual work is not only time consuming, it breeds errors..
Cloud technology eases many of these headaches with infrastructure that allows for easy integration between systems, easy access to data, and a stress-free way to distribute and consolidate data throughout your operations.
Because data is stored on external servers and accessed through an internet connection, integrating with other systems can be accomplished through API’s or Integration Service software. This can eliminate the need for many manual Excel exports, data manipulation, and Excel imports to move data between systems. Additionally, because cloud software is accessible with a web browser, the data can be easier to access and distribute because it does not require people to use a specific computer or device to pull files. This can eliminate the need for emailing files back and forth, making collaboration between teams more efficient.
Finally, one of the hardest affairs for most major mining companies, is consolidating data, especially if they have multiple mine-sites. With current, on-premise systems, the process is similar to what has already been discussed, importing and exporting Excel files and manually entering data. With cloud systems, because all of the data is stored together with easy integrations, this process is eliminated, which makes consolidating data a seamless process. This saves time and money.
Lower Cost of Ownership/Instant updates
In addition to increased efficiency, less manual work and increased processing speeds, cloud software will also cost you less in the long run. This is because all servers are hosted externally, maintained by someone else, and software support and maintenance is rolled out frequently and seamlessly. Additionally, many companies have been migrating to Cloud based systems because it costs less money to maintain a cloud hosted systems versus hosting everything on a premise.
Furthermore, without the need to manage your own servers, less human resources are required. IT teams can focus more on the work that really needs to be done instead of dealing with the hassle of software updates and installs and hardware monitoing , again, saving time, and money while adding increased efficiencies across the enterprise.
An additional benefit of cloud hosted systems for mining is the ability to get maintenance and software updates often, and easily. With traditional, on-premise applications, it is common that vendors will issue a maintenance package once or twice a year that takes a long time to install, and can cost a lot of money. With cloud technology, the way the software updates roll out make it reduces these costs significantly and often rarely costs the end user. This leads to more frequent roll outs that are typically completed on a quarterly, monthly and sometimes weekly basis that is completed in a manner that does not impede a company’s ability to use a given tool.
What about security?
For an industry like mining, where the data is so vast and many of the companies are publicly traded, one of the biggest fears is data security. For many people in the industry, this fear of data loss or the concern of having their data stored “somewhere else” is one of the main reasons they choose to adopt cloud technology..
While these fears are rooted in fair, and honest concern, cloud technology has come a long, LONG way in the last 10 years. Major cloud providers like Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft's Azure, and others have built best in class security practices and are trusted by companies all over the world. Many providers even offer advanced levels of security such as private cloud storage, and cloud storage that is approved for HIPAA and Government level data security, so if you’re ever unsure about data security, just ask the vendor if these options are available to you.
While cloud solutions have traditionally not been a part of the mining industry for a variety of reasons, with the sheer amount of data that is processed at today's mine-site, improved network connectivity, and increased security, it makes sense that the mining industry will continue adopting this technology more broadly in the near future to harness the storage and computing power of the Cloud.