In the lead up to the Technology and Productivity in Mining Conference, we had the opportunity to ask Jason Nitz of Newmont a few questions. Jason shares his views and experience on topics including IT & OT, critical use of data in mining, system integration and technology implementation. Jason is also an avid blogger where he writes his own insights on the mining industry. You can check out his blog here. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the interview!
Informa Insights (II): “IT & OT Convergence”, the convergence of Information Technology & Operational Technology, has become a buzzword for the resource industry in the era of autonomous equipment and new technologies – Could you tell us what it means at an operational level?
Jason Nitz (JN): The line between pure IT, such as desktops and servers, and technology on equipment, be it mobile or plant, has blurred over the years as more and more mining equipment comes with built-in technology. It’s the reason the phrase ‘Operational Technology’ was coined – it’s now a distinct field on its own. But IT and OT go hand in glove given that the information gathered by OT needs to be collated, analysed and displayed, which is where IT comes into play.
The problem with traditional IT departments is that they generally come under Commercial or Finance and are very corporate-focused, OT is all operationally focused. Unless there is a good working relationship between the two, issues can arise. Having been involved in mining IT for many years with Rio Tinto and BHP, and more recently a part of mining operations combined with postgraduate engineering studies, I can safely say I’ve had a role to play in both camps and understand how to get the best out of both.
II: As Fleet Management Superintendent at Newmont Boddington Gold Mine, what are the main challenges you are facing in the management of the fleet operations? How is the data collected used towards planning and production decisions?
JN: NBG is a data-heavy organisation in that a large amount of data is available and used to make production and planning decisions. In fact, it’s safe to say I’ve not seen an operation use data as well as NBG – it’s part of our DNA now. And that in turn presents our biggest challenge – data management. The amount of data we collect is huge and can be overwhelming to the end user unless you have the ability to filter it. And by filter I don’t mean in a spreadsheet, but through a data engineer who can turn a request for data into meaningful information.
By having knowledge of the mining operation and the data available, this engineer can turn a request for x into a coherent set of data which can easily tell a story. And if need be, they can then turn that request for data into a regular daily or weekly report, updated and emailed automatically.
II: In your experience, how are new IT integrated systems supporting the operations, and how do they contribute to improving productivity?
JN: It really depends on the system in question. Over the past 5 or so years we’ve seen more and more acquisitions of smaller, niche companies by the larger mining services companies with the view of creating an end-to-end product. Whilst that approach sounds great, unless it’s done right it can turn out to be less than productive. Sometimes niche companies and their services are like that for a very reason – they’ve built a product that works and is well respected. Consuming that into a larger suite of products can sometimes dilute its value and performance. Having said that, when it is done right there is certainly value to be added from a more fluid workflow. A software application that works across survey, drilling, and production certainly adds more value than 3 separate pieces of software where integration is difficult and time consuming.
II: Could you share with us a technology trial you have been working on?
JN: A simple example might be best as it’s not always about big, expensive technology. Integration of simple technology can make as much difference as large, complex projects. We recently decided to put cameras at certain haul road intersections in order to monitor vehicle traffic and driver behaviour. The cost to do this was going to be quite expensive when you add up the need to power them by solar panels and run them across a Wi-Fi network. We then had an idea that perhaps it would be better if we fitted each haul truck with a windscreen mounted camera that records to a memory card, much like those you can now buy for your car at home. We found several high-end models that looked like they could handle the conditions and trialled them.
The result was we settled on a camera that met our requirements and could fit-out the entire fleet for about 20% of the cost of the original solution, with the added bonus they give far more coverage, as they provide footage from each truck, not just at certain intersections.
II: In your perspective, what are some of the effective transition strategies that can be implemented to enable efficient integrated systems? Are there particular impacts on job profiles?
JN: There’s some proven project management strategies that can be followed in order to ensure you minimise risk, such as defining scope, stakeholders etc. I usually like to go and see it working at another site or company first – ask them some questions about how they approached it, what they’d do again if they had their time over, any suggestions etc. Someone would have nearly always done it before you so it makes sense to learn from their experience. Generally most other mining companies are happy to share their information.
We have some great relationships with other companies for this purpose. Once it’s time to dip your toe into the water, start off small. Run a pilot program, get input or feedback from those using the system and make the necessary changes before widening the project. This approach is nothing new but it’s amazing how many people don’t follow the basics. In terms of job profiles changing, the word automation seems to strike fear into the hearts of people, but in my experience rarely does the number of people actually change. It’s more their role that changes. Sure, with automated trucks you don’t need as many operators, but you do need the roles elsewhere to monitor the trucks. I think as we mature in the automation field and the older generation retire, the numbers will balance up with the newer “X-Box” generation coming on-board. They are much happier in control centres within CBD or urban areas than travelling to a dusty, dirty, remote site. It’s going to be the way of the future but it’s still some time off before we reach that point.
II: We are pleased to welcome you as a speaker at Informa’s Technology & Productivity in Mining conference – What are 3 key takeaways your industry peers can expect?
JN: I hope I’ll be able to pass on some of the strategies and approaches I’ve taken over the years, along with some of the learnings on how to approach the use of technology in order to get buy in from management. It’s definitely an up and coming area in this day and age of increasing costs and production pressure. Technology really does have a much larger role to play today than it did 10-15 years ago. I’ll also present a case study to show just how ingrained IT and OT are and how having a good relationship with each other is key to success.
Catch Jason Nitz, Fleet Management Superintendent of Newmont Boddington Gold at the upcoming Technology & Productivity in Mining Conference in Perth where he will be speaking on the “Convergence of Information Technology and Operational Technology in Mining“.