Machinery at dawn

Behind the scenes of digitalisation in mining: How data innovation drives intelligent integration

Explore the importance of integrated solutions in mining, and why data plays a key role in overcoming the complexity of digitalisation.

Key Takeaways

  • Icon of an excavator

    Most mining companies struggle to find their way through a complex mix of digital solutions.

  • Icon of three arrows pointing different directions

    Creating a clear digital roadmap can simplify the route ahead – clarifying business needs.

  • Icon of digitalization of processes

    Intelligent integration, linking solutions through data, offers a quicker way to make sure systems are working together to drive efficiency.

  • Icon of a tree

    Digitalisation will be a key driver for decarbonisation, helping businesses to understand, monitor and reduce their emissions.

  • Icon of a wind turbine

    Collaborating with trusted partners is a critical element in removing the complexity from digitalisation and adapting to the energy transition.

Profile picture of Mark Hannan

Mark Hannan, General Manager, Mining Decarbonisation, Shell

With almost 15 years’ industry experience, Mark is Shell’s strategy development lead for decarbonisation in the mining sector. From biofuels and renewables to carbon capture and offsetting, he is responsible for developing the low-carbon business models, infrastructure and integrated solutions that help global businesses adapt to the energy transition.

In his previous role at Shell Digital Ventures, he led the creation of Shell and IBM’s OREN, the world’s first B2B marketplace dedicated to digital solutions and services designed for the mining industry.

Forget science fiction – AI is already here

Challenge

Across mining, the big question around digital transformation isn’t ‘if’ or even ‘when’; it’s ‘how’. Businesses understand that digital technology can help them overcome their biggest day-to-day challenges. But many don’t have a clear plan for how to integrate these solutions with each other – or with existing systems.

Solution

As Mark Hannan, General Manager, Mining Decarbonisation for Shell, explains: “Mining companies face a range of pressures. From meeting their operational targets to managing the safety of their employees – and keeping up with the energy transition – they know they need to adapt to digitalisation.” That’s why they should collaborate with the right partners to make the complex simple and bring their different solutions together to meet the needs of their business.

Mining companies face complex digital choices

Mining businesses are looking to shake up their operations massively with digital technology. It’s why, in our recent research report, seven out of ten mining leaders said they view digitalisation as an urgent priority.1 But, right now, many of them aren’t sure how to do this.

“They’re really enthusiastic about embracing digital, but there’s so much choice,” says Hannan. “Where do these businesses start? It’s not that the solutions aren’t out there. The real challenge for them is finding the right types of solutions – the ones that best meet their needs.”

In 2020, Shell and IBM came together to resolve this issue. Together, the two companies launched OREN, a global B2B marketplace that connects mining businesses with digital solutions and services designed to meet their needs.2

“The idea was to provide mining companies with a one-stop shop for digitalisation,” explains Hannan. “It was initially based on specific use cases across the mining value chain that we validated with customers. This could be reducing fuel consumption or making sure a workforce is safe at any given moment. Type in your use case and you’d see all the solutions mapped to it.”

The need for a clear digital roadmap

The launch of OREN was a success, but businesses needed more than the ability to find solutions. So, Shell and IBM moved to a more collaborative role that helped to deliver support for digital strategy and implementation.

“What became apparent was that companies didn’t know how these solutions fit into their wider digital roadmap,” says Hannan. “So, we worked closely with customers to create their roadmaps for the next three years – offering practical solutions while taking into account their individual needs and budget constraints.”

We found that mining companies aren’t going to use a marketplace like they would use Amazon. You still need to speak to customers and understand their problems.

Mark Hannan, General Manager, Mining Decarbonisation, Shell

“Another element was getting them to understand that, when you adopt one digital solution, that’s not the end of the conversation,” continues Hannan. “The new solutions need to be integrated with other systems on their mining site – or implemented as part of a wider package designed to help them reduce costs or improve efficiency.”

Why no single solution can transform mining operations

Quarry landscape

Integration is vital for digitalisation in mining companies. There’s no one solution that can resolve every issue. And that means making sure a collection of solutions and services work together to drive efficiency.

Hannan uses the example of the maintenance needs around a tailings dam to illustrate this. “Let’s say a company has sensors that can detect in real-time the status of the dam and its components,” he explains. “But the alerts from the sensors don’t go to anyone or trigger an action.”

This lack of integration causes huge inefficiency for the engineers involved. “If there’s something wrong with the dam, an engineer often has to identify the issue then come back and order spare parts to fix it,” Hannan continues. “But, when solutions are integrated, the alert from the sensors automatically generates the work management order for engineers – along with orders for any parts that are needed.”

The importance of intelligent integration

The challenge for many businesses is understanding how they can build those links between new digital solutions and existing IT systems. Especially when 94% of mining companies say legacy infrastructure is a barrier to digitalisation.1 However, this is where intelligent integration can make a huge difference.

“Data is the key to how we’re helping mining companies resolve the complexity of integration,” says Hannan. “What we've said to companies is, rather than them having to integrate all the different solutions on their digital roadmap, we can integrate the data so we're not creating anything new.”

The challenge is convincing companies that they can adopt three or four elements that meet their different use case and that it’ll all work together.

Mark Hannan, General Manager, Mining Decarbonisation, Shell

“In many cases, they already have some of the solutions they need,” he continues. “So, we’re simply adding another element to that and linking it. This could be integration with their inventory management or ERP systems. We’re bringing that together through the data, showing customers that they can adopt four or five new solutions to match their different use cases and solve an end-to-end problem.”

The timescale for this style of integration underlines how effective the approach can be. “When you integrate the data, you’re looking at around three months to get it done,” says Hannan. “We’ve surprised customers who thought they were looking at a four-year programme to bring it all together.”

How the data links digitalisation to decarbonisation

The integration of digital solutions also plays an important role in helping mining companies to decarbonise their operations. Mining more sustainably requires the ability to understand and monitor site emissions. But it’s a capability that many are currently lacking.

“Most mining companies will track their emissions manually or with a range of different sensors,” says Hannan. “This means they can do it once – maybe twice – a year. But, with increasing regulation and pressure from stakeholders, they now need the ability to keep track of emissions in real-time.”

So, what is the practical route to businesses achieving this? Especially as nine out of ten mining leaders see a complex mix of available solutions as a barrier to their decarbonisation efforts.1 Intelligent integration offers an answer.

Digital is such a key component of the energy transition. You’re still going to use a lot of electricity or hydrogen if your facilities aren’t efficient. So, let’s make them efficient first.

Mark Hannan, General Manager, Mining Decarbonisation, Shell

“Integrating the data from different solutions can help companies build that big picture in real-time,” explains Hannan. “So, you link the sensor data from your vehicle fleet with your industrial processing, your shipping, your rail operations and so on. This gives you the ability to see emissions across your business.”

This is yet another example of how digital technology sits at the heart of the mining industry’s efforts to reach a net-zero future.

Collaboration: a simpler solution to complexity

Image of open pit mine

It’s no surprise that companies are overwhelmed by the range of digital solutions available to them. But this complexity doesn’t have to hold business back – as OREN demonstrates.

“I'm really proud that we're bringing innovation from parts of the world that mining customers would normally never see,” concludes Hannan.

“And I’m proud that we’re working with customers to build practical solutions to their problems – from efficiency to carbon management.”

It shows that, by working closely with trusted partners, mining operators can simplify the complex. They can create clear next steps on their digital journey – along with new opportunities for safety, productivity and sustainability.

1Based on a survey of 300 global industrial business leaders carried out by Shell and Edelman Data Intelligence in June 2021

2Shell. 2020. “OREN: Shell and IBM Create Innovation Software and Services Marketplace for Mining.” shell.com. (accessed 1 December 2021)

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