Enhancing mining operations through digital twins
The mining industry faces challenges such as increasing demand for minerals, declining ore grades, rising costs, environmental and social pressures, and rapid technological changes. To overcome these challenges, companies must embrace digital transformation and leverage data and analytics. Advancements in technology have led to improvements in safety, operational efficiency, and maintenance procedures. One transformative concept is simulation and digital twins, which provide real-time monitoring of network operations and predictive maintenance.
There are many different interpretations of the digital twin. Nokia’s approach (https://www.dac.nokia.com/nokia-network-digital-twin/) is to provide a digital twin to monitor your network operations in real-time and predict maintenance needs and potential downtime in the operational environment.
This article explores the benefits of digital twins in the mining industry, focusing on safety improvements, operational efficiency, and predictive maintenance.
Understanding digital twin for mining
The digital twin is a revolutionary technology that creates a virtual replica of a real-world system, process, or object using real-time data from sensors and IoT devices. This provides a holistic view of assets and processes, enabling mining professionals to make insights-driven decisions, enhance safety protocols, improve operational efficiency, and implement proactive maintenance strategies. A digital twin is not an application that provides results to users but serves as a platform for other applications, such as situational awareness via dashboards. The concept has led to three significant applications: simulation, geospatial digital twins, and network digital twins. The simulation uses data from a digital twin to predict the outcome of changes or scenarios, while the geospatial digital twin incorporates precise geospatial data to enable immersive user experiences and simulations that are close to reality. Network digital twins enable network operators to perform online optimization, what-if analysis, troubleshooting, and upgrade planning, with network automation and (re-)programmability central to their value propositions. Federating network and geospatial digital twins offer advantages for simulations, allowing for the end-to-end study of operational changes and paving the way for a universal metaverse.
What are the benefits?
Digital twins offer a range of advantages to the mining sector, revolutionizing traditional practices and enabling more efficient and sustainable operations.
Digital twins enable real-time monitoring and predictive maintenance in mining equipment, enabling operators to assess performance, detect anomalies, and prevent breakdowns.
Digital twins enhance safety and risk mitigation by creating virtual environments for training, simulating mining scenarios, and enabling remote equipment operation.
Digital twins and simulations can optimize mining processes like drilling, blasting, and ore extraction, improving productivity and reducing waste by virtually testing parameters.
Digital twins aid in mining sustainability by integrating real-time environmental data, optimizing resource utilization, reducing emissions, and mitigating environmental footprint through optimization of air quality, water consumption, and energy usage.
Digital twins simplify the supply chain by projecting market conditions, client preferences, and price variations, synchronizing supply, demand, inventory tracking, and logistics management.
Challenges and limitations
Digital twins’ implementation in mining requires a customized approach, clear vision, strong commitment, and a collaborative approach. It requires cultural change, a clear vision, strong commitment, and collaboration among stakeholders like operators, engineers, managers, suppliers, regulators, and customers. A robust digital infrastructure is essential for data collection, transmission, storage, analysis, and visualization.
To implement digital twins successfully, mining companies need to follow some best practices, such as:
Clear understanding of the business requirements and the way these are implemented into the digital twin solution
A lean, agile cross-functional project team combining deep know-how of the supply chain and an excellent development team
Advanced data management for accessing, retrieving, validating, and correcting of all needed data points
Engaging and empowering end users of digital twins, such as operators, engineers, and managers, by providing them with user-friendly interfaces and tools, training and support, and feedback mechanisms.
Nokia Bell Labs’ Network Digital Twin: The NiX (Nokia Industrial eXperience) project
Nokia's objective is to demonstrate its leadership position and capacity to help companies of all sizes improve their operations with technology. In this context, earlier this year, Nokia showcased its solution, Nokia Networks Digital Twin, at Futurecom 2023, the most significant event in the telecommunication industry in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The project of an advanced Network Digital Twin originated from the Network Applications Department of Bell Labs Core Research, which later became a product.
The idea focuses on allowing fine control of the network to maximize the experience of each connected device to provide continuous and proactive assurance for mission-critical applications in different sectors.
Preliminary evaluations showed that NiX may improve the safety of field IT equipment by more than 80% and reduce the unplanned shutdowns of autonomous operations by 9 percent due to unsuitable network coverage. In the mining industry, for example, it can boost productivity by up to 25%.
The solution is already available worldwide, with cases being tested in Brazil.
The biggest pilot project is under development in partnership with Nokia and Vale’s autonomous mine in Carajas, Pará, in Brazil, driven by Bell Labs Core Research in collaboration with the Brazil Enterprise team. The NiX project is a central piece of the Network Systems and Security Research Lab’s UNEXT (Unified Network Experience) research program which aims to provide a seamless unified network experience. Read the UNEXT blog here.
Digital twins offer a new frontier for innovation and efficiency in mining, enabling companies to gain a competitive edge, improve performance, reduce costs, enhance safety, and minimize environmental impact. Implementing digital twins requires strategic vision, cultural shift, collaborative effort, and a continuous improvement mindset. Nokia can help by deploying wireless coverage for critical operations and providing network digital twins to identify performance gaps before introducing automated processes.