Unearthed Melbourne 201507 Nov - 09 Nov
Driving Startup Style Innovation in the Resource Sector
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The Processing Plant of Things
“The Processing Plant of Things” – Bringing an old, manual processing plant into the connected world.
Many of Anglo American’s processing plants are 20+ years old. They were built at a time before wireless communication was a reality and many of the current sensor technologies did not exist. Back then, we relied more on the skill of our plant operators to understand the plant, to notice how the process circuits were performing and make adjustments based on their personal experiences. Often the feed grade material was higher quality, more consistent – perhaps the operational expectations were not so great.
Over the years, we have added new sensors to the old plants, we have tried to maintain things, but slowly they have proven too difficult and often fallen into disrepair or replacement parts may be difficult to obtain – or they simply never worked satisfactorily in the first place. Often, it is not that the sensing technology is difficult to maintain, but rather maintaining ACCESS to the sensors that is the most difficult bit. The root cause of most of our instrument failures is inability to access the sensor to maintain it.
Like other industries, our workforce has turned over faster in recent years – our operators have different skill sets now, they have come to rely more on sensors and may have lost some of the ability to ‘read’ the plant by experience…..
In recent times, the concept of “The Internet of Things” has become common talk – the idea that everything is connected in a digital world – linked to “Big Data” and “Machine Learning” that can measure and report everything and optimize process to get the most out of our assets. Whilst our modern Processing Plants are being built with this capability, our older plants are being left behind – predominantly for 3 reasons:
- The measurements are not being taken (e.g. sensors are not fitted everywhere they could and should be, or they are no longer working)
- Even if they are, they are not “connected” (e.g. a ‘dumb’ visual pressure gauge is not seen in a control room)
- A third reason is that– even today – sensors may not have been invented yet to measure everything we would like to know.
The cost to upgrade these old plants to the latest connected sensors, and the consequential loss of profit as a result of the necessary shutdowns to do so, would likely be massive and so the old plants stay as they are….
- Explain how we could measure as much as possible. Without rebuilding the plant, what simple, low-cost modifications could we make to provide the information that we need?
- Explain how we could connect our plant – you cannot assume that we have any networks, data cables, or any sort of communications in place – you must recommend this all to us.
We will be scoring you based on:
- Maintainability of the system – including the sensors, people access and ongoing calibration (if required)
- Economic Benefit
For both parts of this challenge you should think outside the box: What about:
- Mesh networks via smart devices
- Wearable technology
- Use-once, throw-away sensors