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Visual analytics: Insight for the mining industry

By Juan Andres Abarca BNAmericas

May 26,2016

With the influence of the internet of things slowly growing in all sectors, the mining industry has been incorporating new technologies as part of efforts to continue curbing costs and make processes more efficient.

It is within this framework that technology giant IBM recently presented in Chile, at the Expomin trade fair, the concept of visual analytics fleet monitoring, which seeks to make the process more efficient and allow decision makers to take better, more informed decisions.
BNamericas talked with IBM business development executive Alexandre Dalmax to learn more about this concept.

BNamericas: What is visual analytics? How is IBM working on it and how can it be applied to the mining industry?

Dalmax: Visual analytics is a concept that brings together complex information that is everywhere, in the trucks, in the planning of the mine, with the mine's operators, information that is part of the mining business.

Once you get that information, or any other information that's relevant, for example weather conditions, it's the combination of that information that helps people take better decisions at an operational level, and to do so in the best way possible.

And that's when visual analytics comes in, which is bringing all of this information and transforming it in a way which everyone can understand, from the general manager, to the company director, to the operator, to the planner. And this information creates value not only in each specific area, but as a whole, to improve the margins of the business and lower costs.
I improve my efficiency by building on that, and that's the difficult part, to bring all of these volumes of information that come from different origins, with different quality, with information that comes from the operations, and to make it palpable, in a way that decisions can be taken in the moment, analytically, so we can predict potential outcomes.

BNamericas: And how difficult is it to explain this to the mining industry, which in general is a more conservative industry?

Dalmax: It's not easy, exactly because the industry has a vision of tangibility. What I mean by that is that the industry needs to touch the tire of a truck, needs to check the equipment it's using, even in the environment where it operates; it needs to know if the ore grades are good.
When you talk about a new type of information, one that can't be touched - because there's a lot of information that can't be touched, but when adequately combined and correlated can generate value - that's the difficult part, because it's a cultural thing. And that has nothing to do with Chile, Brazil or any other country, this is an issue of the mining industry, and that's the main challenge.

But these are processes to which the industry needs to adapt, it's not a matter of will, it's happening now. So it's not a matter of choice, it's a matter of necessity. This will happen now with the innovators, and it will happen later to those who wait for the innovation to come to them.

BNamericas: And are you already working with a company in a pilot program?
Dalmax: Yes, we have a project, but due to issues of confidentiality, I can't give too many details, but we're already generating results and the projection of these results is very important.
One important detail of all of this process, that's related to your first question, is that this solution is agnostic, meaning that I can harvest information from everywhere. It can be any truck, Komatsu, Caterpillar; any equipment: Sandvik, Atlas Copco; and that's what makes the difference: we're speaking the language of the client, it's not the language of just one brand, or just one platform, and that's important.
BNamericas: So that marks the difference with your competition?

Dalmax: Exactly, that's the big difference. Since IBM is a technology company, it needs to think ahead, because technology is always changing and needs to be at the forefront. What IBM does is create new concepts. Visual analytics is a concept that didn't exist three years ago, and was created at IBM labs.

Another important point is that IBM serves different industries, not just mining, that's why it needs to be agnostic, because IBM doesn't make mining equipment. What IBM does is to seek information where information exists, and to try to compare it in a way that makes it possible to create analysis and predictions, and in this specific case, optimize results.
BNamericas: How has the reception been within the Chilean mining industry?

Dalmax: Well, this is very new and the fact that we're at a mining event is already an excellent result. It motivates me because people in Chile are looking ahead, even though we're in a conservative environment, we can see that people are looking at different things, different technologies.

To talk about innovation, to bring innovation to an environment that is somewhat grayer is what differentiates Chile from other countries in Latin America and the world. We can say that Australia is pretty advanced, but I don't think Chile is that far behind Australia.
About Alexandre Dalmax

Alexandre Dalmax has over 27 years of experience in the areas of energy and natural resources industries such as metals, mining, energy, oil and gas and paper and pulp, having worked in the technical and business areas developing and implementing innovative projects for operation technology and IT. In his current role, Dalmax provides consultative support for knowledge integration between the business operation and innovative technologies for the natural resources industry.