Digital Mining at Siemens Minerals Day in Chile

By Valentijn de Leeuw



Focusing on digital transformation, Siemens held its third Minerals Day in Santiago, Chile, in April 2018.  Participants were greeted by the holographic image of a rotating mill. This holographic setup was also smd1.JPGused to project images of people as they could be living in Chile in the future, emphasizing the potential future of digitalization.  Tech journalist, Elena Dressel, introduced the speakers.

Yun Zeng from Siemens Digitalization presented a recent update of the company’s digital architecture applied to mining.  He explained the vertically integrated stack, reaching from automation via operations management to integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP).  It synchronizes at every level with a product and process lifecycle stack for engineering, asset management and continuous improvement.  The IIoT platform, MindSphere, links the two stacks with common tools and apps.  

MES Across the Value Chain at Vale

A testimonial by Vale, a Brazilian multinational corporation engaged in metals and mining, explained the company’s approach in developing a manufacturing execution system (MES) across the company’s value chain.  In this case, the value chain reaches from the mine via production and transportation to the final destination, often in an overseas port. 

Planning Ahead

Vale worked with ChemTech, a Siemens, company, and defined a very broad scope for coordination and optimization, including mining, production, and logistics operations.  In a next step, the company will extend the solution to include optimizing mid-term planning to define the tasks of the underlying MES. 

Vale was careful to plan and engineer the full company rollout before implementation and took sustainability and expandability of the solution and its architecture into account.  Since the company had been built up through acquisitions, the project team standardized the KPIs across the company at the start of the project.  The company chose a web-based application that could be maintained easily and was developed efficiently using agile methodology. 

Involving the Workforce

Vale took great care to involve its workforce in the process, because “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  Vale’s Marcello commented that taking the time to move step-by-step was a success factor in helping the workforce adapt to the change.  The company also created a solid foundation based on technical and management resources that took ownership for the project. 

Reap the Benefits

The projected benefits include increased asset utilization and performance and improved productivity thanks to more consistent KPIs and internal benchmarking.  Furthermore, the company expects increased agility and cost avoidance during the solution rollout, since it will not require any hardware or software updates.  Product licensing costs will also be reduced.  The total estimated benefit amounts to $72 million through 2020 and indications are that these projected benefits will be validated during the actual application.

Overview of Operations Management Functions at Vale - Minerals Day smd2.JPG

ARC’s View on Digitalization

The author of this report, Valentijn de Leeuw, presented ARC’s view on digitalization that includes all interdependent elements, ranging from technology to strategy.  This presentation illustrated the various elements with mining and minerals processing use cases on design thinking, asset lifecycle information management, modular production and mining, risk and compliance management, smart maintenance, and supply chain management.

It’s interesting to note that Vale is developing the vision of large-scope, long-horizon supply chain optimization postulated in a similar ARC presentation a few years ago.  Vale calls this a global corporate integrated operations center (COI), which will be a follow up to the project described above. 

ARC’s presentation zoomed in on the social impact of digitalization and specified what companies can do to make change accepted and sustainable.  It concluded with early evidence that digitalization makes companies more competitive, leading to growth and investment and increases, rather than decreases, in employment levels.

Functions of the Integrated Operations Center  - minerals day smd3.JPG


Remote Operation, Autonomous and Optimized Haulage

Midroc Automation, a system integrator from Sweden, reported on several projects in which the company integrated the Siemens PCS7 control system with autonomous transportation systems in underground mines.  At LKAB in Kiruna, Sweden (perhaps the world’s largest and modern underground ore mine), Bombardier trains transport ore over 12 km-long tracks on the most recent and deepest haulage level.  The chutes are remotely operated from a control center at the surface and the train automatically routed to an available unloading station.  Here, the ore is unloaded, crushed, and transported to the surface using a hoisting system, without any human intervention. 

Chute Gallery, Train Haulage, and Unloading Station at LKAB - minerals day smd4.JPG

Only maintenance personnel are present in the mines and will occasionally drive a train manually.  The system is executed redundantly and mostly hard-wired to provide high availability and reliability.  Based on this reference, PT Freeport in Indonesia decided on a similar project.

A client testified that Midroc had executed its project in three years, estimating that, if executed in-house, it could have taken as long as 10 to 20 years to complete.  This type of approach is an example of new mine designs with only a bare minimum of personnel at risk of exposure to dust and accidents, and where operators work in control centers at the surface, rather than in the mine.  The approach of integrating all operations-related systems in a single interface is very efficient for the operator.  It provides them all information and full control, allowing them to make the best decisions.

Main Control Room and Chute Control Desk at LKAB  - minerals day smd5.JPG

Remote Service Platform

Mark Yseboodt from Siemens discussed how Profinet enables transparent communication between field devices, control, operations management, and higher layers, using a single protocol. He described the variety of remote connections that Siemens offers under its common Remote Service Platform.  These can be owned and managed by the operating companies, or provided as a service from Siemens to support remote mining operations.

Other Aspects of Digitalization

A panel discussion focused on the social aspects of digitalization and the role of artificial intelligence.  Vale commented about the need to take small steps with people.  ARC and Deloitte agreed that the employment question will be the most delicate one at the transition point to digitalization, since it is tempting for companies to reduce workforce as efficiency gains are created.  When managed with anticipation of future growth, companies taking their social responsibility seriously can minimize negative social impacts by reskilling personnel for higher value-adding activities.

Digitalization of Power Supply

Chris Pretorius explained Siemens’ approach to digitalization in power supply, which resembles in all aspects the digitalization of a manufacturing process.  Solutions range from Energy Analytics in MindSphere, through microgrids servicing remote locations.  Future ARC reports will cover this offering in more detail.  Potential applications extend well beyond mining and minerals.

The event was concluded with presentations (in Spanish) on digital services, asset management approaches for mining, and condition monitoring of gearless motor drives.  For more information on these solutions, readers can visit the Siemens digital mining pages.


The minerals and mining industry has become very creative in dealing with the volatility of the ore and metals prices, which have led to shock waves throughout the sector and in some periods led to cost cutting and sometimes hampered investments.  However, when it comes to adapting to changing market conditions, the sector has more in common with the process industries than we generally imagine.  Both sectors can learn from each other when it comes to digitalization, modular production and automation, remote operation, and use of autonomous vehicles. 

The Siemens Mining Day event in Chile featured high-quality and original contributions and helped demonstrate Siemens’ customer intimacy.  The event included a well-balanced mix of testimonials, Siemens capabilities, and third-party perspectives.

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Keywords: Autonomous Transportation, Digital Mining, Minerals, Vale, MidRoc, LKAB, Remote Operation, Digitalization of Power Supply, MindSphere, ARC Advisory Group.

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