Martin Provencher is the OSIsoft Industry Principal for Mining, Metals and Materials. His deep industry knowledge comes from positions at Aluminerie Alouette, a large aluminum smelter located in Quebec, Canada, as the Information Technology & Automation Manager and, later, as the Operations & Maintenance Manager for Casthouse and Production Services. He has also been an active Industry 4.0 speaker and influencer for IBM as the Quebec Metals and Mining Leader and lately with Norda Stelo as Director for manufacturing and processing plants. We recently sat down with Martin to talk all things industry - what's going on, what's going to happen, and how does digital factor into it all?
What are the biggest challenges facing the industry now?
There are four major challenges facing the industry, as outlined by Martin.
1. Commodity prices - Whereas commodity prices used to change in 15-25 year cycles over the last 200 years, these prices now fluctuate much faster with the growth of emerging markets. Whereas this change used to be a rolling wave, it's become more of a spiking wave now, changing within a year or even faster. This means that mining, metals, and materials firms must optimize their efficiency in terms of process productivity, asset health, and resource availability.
2. Compliance - The industry is under great pressure from environmental, health, and safety regulations, forcing them to find ways to monitor operations in real time and to act upon any deviations/predict potential failures.
3. Capital Investments - Given the nature of the industry, metals and mining management requires significant capital investments throughout the production life-cycle. Whenever a new mine is opened, significant investments are required to obtain proper machinery, energy, water, and in the cases of remote operations, to literally build roads and an infrastructure to sustain them. Companies now need to optimize their resource utilization and find ways to reduce their capital investments in order to achieve sustainable and profitable operations.
4. Digital Transformation - New tools and technologies are emerging to help the industry better manage assets, use resources, and improve process productivity, but now managers must figure out how to best leverage the new technologies and data at their disposal.
How can technology help alleviate these challenges?
Technology can help Metals, Mining, and Materials companies improve process productivity by maximizing operational efficiency through supply chain improvements. It can also give them real-time insights into asset health, allowing for better asset utilization as well as condition-based and predictive maintenance. Additionally, digital technologies allow for real-time process monitoring, which is critical in increasing productivity and uncovering potential safety risks before they happen. This is crucial in maintaining health & safety compliance as well as the general well-being of employees.
What is the primary driver for these new digital technologies?
While there are several critical factors here; ultimately, cost reduction is critical to maintaining long-term sustainable operations. Since the industry is so capital intensive, reducing capital investments is a major priority. All the other challenges tie into this - maintaining optimal asset health means that firms can achieve more with less, improving process efficiency means less money is wasted on unnecessary tasks, and having a better understanding of resource availability (such as water or energy usage, where reserves are, where to dig, etc), can save countless hours and dollars as opposed to trial and error.
When it comes to these new technologies, is the industry generally an early or a late adopter, and why is that?
The industry is a late adopter because there can be a cultural stigma around using technology in historically non-technical fields. Ultimately, you can mine and produce metals and materials without any digital technology at all, but at what rate? Not to mention, technology is what's helping us to operate safer than ever before.
By 2025, where do you see things headed?
Two words - Digital Transformation.
What is the value of the PI System to the Metals, Mining, and Materials industry?
“It's critical, it's what will allow the industry to succeed in Digital Transformation.”
PI lets companies collect data from remote assets everywhere, and it gives this data context so that individuals can use it to make critical decisions. It all comes back to improving asset health, process productivity, resource optimization like energy and water, quality improvements, reporting and of course safety. PI does all of that.
For example - Syncrude Canada saved $20M in maintenance costs on its haul trucks using the PI System. This is just one example as the PI System is rated #1 by Gartner Peer Reviews for Asset Performance Management software. Another good example on process productivity is Aurelia Metals, an Australian miner, who used the PI system to evaluate processes in real time and dynamically adjust mining parameters to maximize gold extraction as the composition and quality of ores changed. This allowed them to boost gold recovery rates by 14% in less than a year, meaning more gold and more profit than ever. Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold is using the PI system to tune mining operations to become 'gold price agnostic,' meaning that production costs will be brought down to the point that large commodity price swings won't cause major disruptions. Using the PI System at their Nevada mine, Barrick has been able to reduce environmental deviations by 45% and fan trips by 61%. ArcelorMittal, the world's leading steel and mining company, has been leveraging PI to update legacy systems and improve overall quality, while also changing the firm's internal mindset to one that was more focused on data transparency and collaboration. The end result? $120 million in additional revenue in 2015, and ArcelorMittal, as well as the entire Metals & Mining Industry, aren't slowing down.