What is Operational Technology (OT) in mining?

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The mining industry has come a long way from its initial manual and labour-intensive methods to the technologically driven operations of today. One of the key factors driving this incredible transformation is the application of operational technology (OT) in mining.

In this article, we will delve into OT, understand its importance in the mining industry, and discuss how it differs from information technology (IT).

What is Operational Technology (OT)?

OT or Operational Technology, refers to the hardware and software systems employed to monitor, control and optimize the operation of industrial equipment on production sites. This technology aids in real-time data acquisition and decision-making and is crucial in managing assets, processes, and systems. OT plays a central role in industries such as manufacturing, oil and gas, utilities, and, of course, mining. It includes a range of devices and systems such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), distributed control systems (DCS), and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

However, it should be noted that there is currently no industry consensus on what is and is not considered OT versus what is considered IT, nor where there is overlap between the two. For example, it is obvious that all Microsoft products fall into the IT category, but it could be argued that production management software, such as AVEVA PI, RtDUET, MPA and TCard are examples of OT (see diagram below).

what is Operational Technology
Diagram: The differences and overlaps between Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT)

How does Operation Technology work?

OT vs IT

OT focuses on the direct control of physical systems, machines, and processes. It is responsible for managing the assets, production, and resource allocation in industries where safety, security, and continuous production are of utmost importance.

While often considered the same,  IT and OT serve the same purpose – to create stakeholder value – but in different ways.

 

OT is typically used to create stakeholder value by being the connection between humans and machines. IT is typically used to create stakeholder value by being the connection between humans and humans, e.g. between the business and its shareholders or community stakeholders.

 

Though both IT and OT use computer systems, networks, and software to perform their functions, OT specifically caters to the unique requirements of industrial and manufacturing settings.

OT in the mining industry

From mine planning and exploration to mineral processing and logistics, OT has enhanced the efficiency and safety of operations at every stage. Let’s take a closer look at how OT is transforming the mining industry:

1. Mine planning and exploration

Through the use of advanced software, mining engineers can build digital models, simulate mine conditions, and generate 3D geological representations of the mine site. This enables them to identify the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to extract minerals, minimizing the risk of unwarranted surprises during the mining phase.

2. Drilling and blasting

OT-driven solutions like smart drills, autonomous drill rigs and precision blasting systems significantly reduce the net energy used to break the rock, thus lowering greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental impact. Arguably, their greatest impact is removing people from the line of fire thereby safety, health and wellness.

3. Material transportation

Autonomous haul trucks and train systems improve overall operational efficiency and reduce the chances of human errors and accidents on-site. Moreover, advancements in sensors and telemetry enable predictive maintenance, extending the lifecycle of these valuable assets.

4. Mineral processing

The integration of real-time advanced sensors, process control systems and data analytics in mineral processing plants has enhanced the understanding of ore characteristics and metallurgical response. This enhancement has led to a significant reduction in the usage of hazardous chemicals, water, and energy whilst maximising availability, recovery and product quality in the extraction process.

5. Logistics

Digital supply chain solutions, enabled by OT, not only offer greater visibility into the movement of materials and finished products but also facilitate collaboration and communication among all stakeholders.

Benefits of Operational Technology in the Mining Industry

Operational Technology (OT) is pivotal in revolutionising the mining industry, offering many benefits that increase efficiency, safety, and overall productivity. Here’s a detailed exploration of these advantages

Enhanced Safety Measures:

Operational Technology introduces advanced monitoring and control systems that significantly improve safety within mining operations. Real-time data analytics and sensor technologies enable the detection of potential hazards, allowing for prompt intervention and minimising the risk to personnel.

Increased Efficiency and Productivity:

Automation solutions powered by OT streamline various processes in mining, leading to heightened efficiency and productivity. Automated machinery and control systems optimise resource utilisation, reduce downtime, and enhance overall operational output.

Predictive Maintenance:

Leveraging OT, mining equipment can be equipped with sensors that monitor their condition in real-time. This enables predictive maintenance, helping prevent unexpected breakdowns and reducing the costs associated with unscheduled downtime.

Data-Driven Decision Making:

The integration of OT in the mining industry generates vast amounts of data. This data can be transformed through sophisticated analytics into valuable insights for informed decision-making. From resource allocation to process optimisation, data-driven strategies improve business outcomes.

Remote Monitoring and Control:

OT facilitates remote monitoring and control of mining operations. This capability is particularly beneficial in harsh or remote environments where on-site presence may be challenging. It enables real-time adjustments and interventions without the need for physical proximity.

Environmental Sustainability:

OT solutions contribute to sustainable mining practices by optimising energy consumption and reducing waste. Smart technologies can help monitor and manage environmental impacts, ensuring compliance with regulations and fostering a more eco-friendly approach to mining.

Integration with IT Systems:

The convergence of Operational Technology with Information Technology (IT) systems enhances connectivity and collaboration across the mining ecosystem. This integration improves communication between different departments, fostering a more cohesive and agile operational environment.

Cost Reduction:

Through automation and process optimisation, OT helps in minimising operational costs. Whether through efficient use of resources, predictive maintenance, or streamlined workflows, these technologies contribute to a more cost-effective mining operation.

 

Operational Technology on the ground
Image: There are many advantages to implementing OT in the mining sector

Conclusion

OT has ushered in a new era of possibilities in the mining industry. With an increased focus on automation and data-driven decision-making processes, the sector’s future is undoubtedly a technology-driven one. As the IT and OT domains continue to converge, mining companies must prepare to leverage the power of these advanced technologies to revolutionize their operations and stay on the cutting edge of change.

If you are looking for an engineering company to assist you in navigating the OT landscape, look no further than Mipac. Our capabilities cover every aspect of the Automation Pyramid, and our team has experience in PLCs, DCS, SCADA as well as AVEVA, RtDuet as well as our own software MPA and TCard.

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