No time for downtime

Colin Boyd, CIO, Joy Global
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Colin Boyd, CIO, Joy Global

The margins in today’s mining industry are tighter than ever, making unplanned equipment downtime an unacceptable situation, driving a focus on optimizing both machine and operator productivity. Companies who have made major capital investments in mining equipment and systems rightly have high expectations, and they rely on their equipment providers to help keep their operations running as effectively and cost-efficiently as possible.

"Using data and analytics to provide direction offers our customers many advantages, including improved machine availability and utilization, increased productivity and lower total costs of operation.”

Using machine data to improve performance

In an industry where it can cost $1,500 per minute of unplanned downtime, the use of machine data and analytics to predict equipment failures and optimize machine performance is an increasingly business critical capability. Offerings such as Joy Global’s JoySmart Solutions service packages use real-time analytics generated by equipment sensors and a rich history of operational data to help mining companies predict when their equipment is likely to fail. Preventative maintenance can then be scheduled, which is cheaper than running to failure and more importantly, minimizes machine down time. So we can assist our customers by getting the data off their machines and turning it into usable information that provides real business advantages and results.

But if that information is not available in real-time or as close to it as possible, the benefits are significantly reduced. This is a real challenge for IT, because many mines are remotely located in places that do not have established IT networking infrastructure available. Adding to that, the machines can be placed in hostile underground environments, making it even harder to reliably gather and transmit the required machine data.

We are looking at flexible networking technologies that allow us to stream machine-based data  in some of the remotest parts of the world. Some of the most complex mining machines have up to 8,000 sensors streaming data; and our engineering and service teams, and our customers need access to that essential information. Through our JoySmart Solutions offerings we provide customers the ability to work with our experts to analyze data from all connected mining machines, compare operating data to identify any abnormality in machine performance, and help prevent costly downtime while optimizing performance.

Given the criticality of this information to both Joy Global and our customers, the IT function has to implement “high availability” technology in all components of the overall solution, and invest in DevOps technology to allow systems upgrades to be performed without any downtime. When you are serving multiple customers on a global basis, there is never a “convenient” time for a system outage, and our customers have an expectation of zero down time.

Industry needs

As an essential provider to the global mining industry, we work hard to make sure we have a world-class service operation that is up and running at all times so clients do not face downtime. The mining industry runs 24/7, and we need to know our products and networks can meet that challenge.

Safety is also a primary concern for our customers, which is why it is important that we help provide information that leads to increased safety at all times. Today’s mining machines are equipped with smart sensor technologies, such as collision avoidance, that are contributing to higher levels of safety. Longer term, the objective is to remove all mining employees from harm’s way and operate machines remotely. Routine equipment checks and preventative maintenance programs ensure that equipment and vehicles used at the mines are performing properly and reliably, and do not pose any dangers to their operators or workers nearby. Lifecycle management solutions such as our JoySmart offerings allow customers to know immediately which machine needs a safety upgrade or immediate attention.

Understanding the mining industry’s needs and primary concerns is essential to providing the best services and solutions. I would encourage CIOs to get “to the coal face” whenever possible; visit a mine, ride in a truck with the workers; find out how the IPs are really used. The Undercover CIO!

As products become increasingly connected to their manufacturers after the point of sale, the role of the CIO becomes increasingly connected to the end customer. The CIO needs to function in the expanded enterprise that includes vendors and customers, and now products. By understanding our customers’ ever changing requirements, and by crafting IT strategies that can deliver product and after-sales services that address those requirements, the CIO can make the IT function more relevant than ever in the increasingly digital world. 

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