Since the industrial revolution we have been obsessed with efficiency and making things work better, faster, and achieving greater economies of scale. The technology revolution has enabled manufacturing industries reach new heights by better connecting them to diverse markets and increasing visibility across the supply chain. The explosion of social media and mobile computing in recent years has added another avenue for businesses to reach out and engage with their customers/business partners. Yet again another progression is emerging in the way we conduct business through the main stream adoption of technologies that enable us to better collect and analyse data. According to Gartner, the number of devices connected to the Internet will raise by about 10 fold in the next 6 years. Up to now the Internet was predominantly an interconnection of PCs, laptops, and mobile phone but going forward we are likely to see a more varied range of devices.
The proliferation of intelligent embedded systems generating and consuming mountains of data is opening up a whole new world of process/machine automation. Innovation is being pushed through adoption of technologies in such as in memory databases, mass parallel processing computing architectures and increasingly sophisticated analytics tools. Google’s self-driving car is a case in point on what’s possible with commercialisation of such technology. Increased interconnection of devices on a big data platform brings closer the goal of automated systems that can make decisions by collecting and analysing the changing environment around it. Currently business executives leverage on range of visualisation and dashboards tools to analyse and make sense of data and make decisions. Artificial intelligence is the next frontier that promises to remove the human element and automate the decision process based on data. Having said that, hopefully the future will not involve a bald man in a trench coat asking me to choose between a blue or red pill!
In the metals and mining sector, the opportunities offered by greater digitisation and IoT are enormous. Visibility and traceability of different process can be improved by devices sharing data across a single platform. Transformational change can be brought about in many facets of the industry such as:
- Health and Safety- location tracking of people, monitoring gas, temperature and ventilation for underground mines. Digitisation of these areas can lead to better early warning systems and better rescue efforts in case of an accident.
- Process Optimisation– controlling speed of extraction, refinement and quality on the production line based on external factors such as weather forecast, commodities market, fuel prices and predicted reserves in the ground.
- Asset Management– tracking asset locations and usage, predicting maintenance cycles and automating procurement accordingly.
- Environmental Assessment– monitor and assess environmental impact of the processes and refine them to achieve a greener production. Co relating production data with environmental impact metrics may help drive innovation in greener production methods.
In conclusion, increased digitisation and IoT is not only driving innovation in how machines are engineered but also how business can be conducted in a smarter way.