Bosch Rexroth
Mining operation

Dig Deeper: A Method Behind the Data Madness

July 12, 2021
We sat down with Bosch Rexroth’s Brian Howell and discussed how mining companies can work with OEMs to get the right type of data to improve efficiency and safety.

We’ve heard it now for more than a decade: Everything is going smart—from homes to cities to manufacturing enterprises.

A market report released by Verified Market Research predicted the global smart mining solutions market will increase at a CAGR of 16% over the next seven years and will be valued at $33.35 billion by 2028.

In industries like mining, smart technology will propel safety and efficiency efforts. We sat down with Brian Howell, U.S. sales manager-large hydraulic drives at Bosch Rexroth, to discuss how the industry can use its OEMs to get data it can really use.

Hydraulics & Pneumatics: Where, in your view, is the mining industry when it comes to adopting new digitally enabled devices? Where are some adoption pain points?

Brian Howell: Depends on the user and the background their staff have. If they are “tech”-type people, then they are likely more interested in wanting to have enabled devices to allow them to view and know how their machines are running, but some customers are not yet ready to adopt this level of technology, and sometimes they even are “anti-tech” because if they don’t have trained or skilled staff who can support the use of enabled technology they view it as a negative. So, it is up to companies like Bosch Rexroth to support these customers to show them how the technology can help them and what value it will bring to their operations.

H&P: What sort of systems and equipment are mining companies leveraging to improve worker safety?

BH: Temperature monitoring, camera technology, pressure and gas sensors are all types of technology that mining companies are deploying to allow equipment to be analyzed and monitored from remote to ensure before maintenance personnel go into that area that the equipment is in a safe condition to be worked on. 

H&P: How can mining companies use software and systems not necessarily developed for mining to improve efficiency in their operations?

BH: It is really up to the industry to develop the software and systems that mining companies need to resolve their pain points in operations and maintenance tasks. Having software tools that helps mining operators have “eyes” on their equipment will certainly boost operations and help them minimize equipment downtime. Who doesn’t want that—get more from your machines and keep them doing the things they were meant to do and allow the mining company to make more revenue. 

H&P: We’ve been seeing a lot of innovations around digital twin technology. How can this technology apply to the mining industry?

BH: Digital twin technology can help mining companies better understand how equipment they may purchase can optimize their process or production by being able to make upset conditions in software to see how a machine will respond. This would provide the ability to play alternate scenarios of issues to tailor machine parameters to meet each mine’s unique operating needs.

H&P: What sort of data-driven decisions can mining companies make to improve safety and efficiency?

BH: Without analyzing machine data, companies can often be blind to how machines are performing and if throughput and efficiency gains can be made. Deploying condition monitoring systems can allow mining companies to analyze and trend their machine performance in real time and tailor their settings to boost productivity and eliminate bottlenecks in their processes.

The world is becoming more and more data driven, and by employing enabled devices on their machines, mining companies can work with equipment OEMs who know the performance characteristics of their machines best, learn what data to collect, and analyze it to make intelligent decisions for machine performance and safety.

H&P: Sensors are getting more and more complex with the data they capture as well as their communicative network ability. What sort of smart sensors should mining companies look for?

BH: Mining companies should work with their OEM equipment providers to learn and understand what type of enabled devices are available and what benefits can be leveraged by using the available data. Often you can be overloaded with data. Monitoring too much data with no plan of how to make use of it can be a waste of time. There must be a method behind the data madness, and collaboration between the OEMs and the site maintenance and operations personnel can yield the mining user with the appropriate set of data analytics to help them improve their processes and understand machine performance.

H&P: Do you see additive manufacturing, robotics and/or AI playing a larger role in the global mining industry moving forward?

BH: AI for sure, being able to remotely analyze a maintenance issue on a machine or troubleshoot via AI technology from remote will become a more common practice in the coming years. During the pandemic, we have become very accustomed to digital meetings, being able meet colleagues and customers anywhere in the world virtually, and this type of technology will also become mainstream to provide remote support and troubleshooting using AI tools.

H&P: How can all these technologies help recoup the loss the industry will face as the workforce retires?

BH: Technology can help with machine and condition monitoring, but the industry will still need a skilled and trained workforce to perform the ground-level maintenance and support needed to keep machines running at peak performance. Enabled devices will certainly help boost the intelligence an operator has about how their equipment is running, but cannot replace a skilled workforce.

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