Digital Twin in Mining & Metals

Digital twin technology proves imperative when it comes to designing, engineering, constructing and operating a mining & metals processing plant. While the technology’s main objectives lie with Industry 4.0, digital factories and smart mines vision, the tangible benefits from its implementation allow industry players to shine now and a long way on.

Digital twins as an essential part of digital transformation 

Virtual twin technology is no longer perceived as something unattainable or futuristic as it was a couple of years ago. Today, the adoption of digital models serves as a cornerstone of digitalization and a key to unlock a plethora of improvements. An itch for digital beget the transformation known to enhance efficiency due to: 

  • Computer science development, which enables to see beyond the physical reality,   
  • Cloud technologies that handle enormous amounts of data and foster remote and real-time management, 
  • Enhanced capabilities that effectively cope with increased complexity. 

Already underway digital transformation has come to offer the digital twin technology not to simply improve traditional mining and ore extraction operationally and technically but to make the industry rethink old models, experiment, grow more agile, evolve and thrive.

Virtual representation, operation and management have come a long way from vision to execution fundamentally changing businesses involved in mining and metals by helping them extract maximum value of the assets they run and operations they perform. 

Mining and metals businesses exploiting digital twin technology 

Within the mining industry, the level of digital twin adoption appeared to be the catalyst in defining the company’s viability and competitiveness. Dozens of businesses work side by side with the processing plant during its lifecycle each contributing to achievement of a certain profit.

Design and Engineering offices 

Playing an integral role in deploying and refurbishing an ore processing plant, design and engineering offices leverage digital twin technology to pursue a number of improvements in:

  • Design 
    Many companies overcome designing stage challenges by exploiting Building Information Modelling (BIM). Smart and holistic design coupled with the ability to make endless alterations decrease the number of rework and ease visibility and comprehension of the designed asset.
  • Clash detection  
    Avoided miscommunication between departments and the embedded into 3D design software capability to eliminate mistakes early on help to identify inefficiencies before the project is moved on to the next stage.
  • Standards compliance  
    Regulations for mining & metals cover numerous areas of a plant’s lifecycle. Being digitally modelled a plant can ensure smooth permits obtainment and sustainable operation. 
  • Technicality assurance  
    Virtual representations covering ins and outs of technological lines, equipment and utilities result in more sophisticated and in-depth outcomes aligned with the project’s targets. 

Virtual models created at the design stage encompass static data which finds its use at the next stages of the digital twin deployment. 

EPC Contractors 

Engineering, procurement and construction contractors advance digital twin technology to the next level and drive value at the following stages:

  • Design 
    3D geometry capture enhanced by BIM technologies creates a laser-sharp model, which is then used to facilitate scheduling and create visualizations, renderings, walkthroughs and animation.
  • Planning 
    Digital twins become indispensable when it comes to design execution time planning as they foster precise scheduling for further project development, visual validation and installation simulations.
  • Procurement 
    3D virtual replicas built upfront enable quantity and cost calculations to be accomplished in practically no time and with a high level of accuracy. Precise knowledge of what is needed and when allows the prefabrication of certain systems and elements as well as gives detailed expenditure estimations.
  • Construction 
    To build on time and as designed becomes possible with the digital twin technology implemented to initiate, monitor and inspect the construction process. Digital models give site workers a better understanding of the construction documentation and enable to pinpoint the exact location and materials to be used. Site process tracking mapped on the digital twin shows whether the work is done on schedule and where modifications are needed. As-built vs as-designed comparison identifies discrepancies and speeds up quality assurance followed by building acceptance and plant’s commissioning.

EPC Contractors embrace two areas of the digital twin adoption into an ore processing plant lifecycle enhancing engineering efficiency, minimizing capital expenditures, and accelerating project execution.

Mining & Metals Managing Companies 

Mining and metals processing plant operation and management become the next step into digital twin technology adoption. Besides site exploration, project development, CAPEX planning, timely and accurate construction, companies utilize virtual representations of their assets and running processes to ensure their golden age lasts longer. Digital twins of ore processing plants are used for:

  • Enhancing efficiency 
    Exploiting a digital replica of an asset results in opening up a number of insights into operating inefficiencies that lead to deploying new operating models and allow for alternative decisions to be tested in a virtual environment. It also reduces the amount of downtime dispatching predictive maintenance, centralized record tracking and decision making.
  • Minimizing operating expenses 
    Ore processing plant’s energy consumption takes 20% of direct operating costs with transportation costs adding up another weighty lump to overall OPEX. Digital technologies empower management board to excel at optimizing operations and ceasing underutilization of the facility.
  • Planning capital expenditures 
    Long-term capital planning, weighing alternative investment options and selecting the lowest CAPEX scenario in the virtual realm reduce uncertainty of capital expenses choices and enable to commission operations more profoundly.
  • Ensuring on-site workers safety 
    Digital replication of a real-world environment facilitates training process, allowing it to be done remotely and with maximum engagement. Real-time capture of the workers’ activity weaved in the virtual twin ensures safety-measures compliance and boosts crew efficiency.
  • Managing risks  
    In-depth understanding of the asset and its operation, possibility to simulate and test various options increase the facility’s viability through uncertainty. Supply and production chains exposure can be run in a digital twin to quickly recover from unforeseen emergencies and change operations in a way that will correspond to the reconditioned environment.

Virtual replicas deployed at various stages of mining operations empower to explore, design, develop, maintain and manage in a qualitatively new way: centrally, predictively, profoundly, efficiently and without setting foot on the asset’s premises.

Challenges in mining & metals overcome upon digital twin technology adoption 

Challenge Digital Twin Adoption Pay-off 
Design mistakes and rework Digital design drawings incorporating practically no mistakes minimize the amount of rework
Time constraints The deadlines become more accurate with the ability to virtually map processes to be conducted
Supply and production chain inconstancies Discontinuity of supply chain and the train of problems it causes are eliminated by tracking and simulation coupled with the quick time of reaction
Money waste and cost ineffectiveness In-depth understanding triggers a number of new business solutions deployment primarily aimed at lowering expenses
Insufficient productivity Productivity boosts due to increased knowledge and insights obtained from a digital replica
Inaccurate planning Virtual planning creates accurate time schedules that can be modified with the change of environment
Poor maintenance Predictive maintenance becomes one of the greatest benefits digital twins bring in controlling assets and facilities
Feeble operations Virtual models help in optimizing operations and prevent underutilization
Difficulty in expanding capacities Exponential growth comes to be tangible with each new stage of digital twin implementation
High risks exposure Quick adaptability to changing environment becomes possible as simulating different scenarios lead to emerging of various alternative decisions

Practical advice on what to consider when adopting digital twins in mining 

From our experience of implementing digital twins in mining and metals processing plants, there arise a number of issues that need to be tackled in the first instance:

  1. Set clear goals you want to achieve by leveraging a virtual twin. Setting expectations and defining what problems you want to solve is crucial in delivering value. It’s the value that comes first, not the technology, although the latter must be selected with utmost care. Regarding software, numerous players are on the market with a variety of technological solutions. Such software manufacturers as Autodesk and Bentley Systems are top-notch in providing design, BIM and simulations software but that does not mean they are the only ones to be opted for and other solutions disregarded. A great deal of analysis and estimation should be done upfront with the only thing in mind – that is the clear goal of digital twin technology adoption.
  1. Acknowledge that digital twin technology may not be a cure for all the problems. Despite being all-encompassing and serving as a single source of truth digital representations need to be handled appropriately. You need to raise your company’s digital IQ and make a great effort to gradually introduce a new culture, which is a long process in its very nature.
  1. Start small and move on to expand. Developing a digital model of a mining and metals processing plant is no longer like gold dust. It’s become much easier to get but the enormous value it brings remains incomparable with any other technology. Starting from scratch and progressing stepwise will eventually lead to fundamental changes in operations, productivity and business culture.

Digital twin technology may well be a sort of a golden ticket to future success and prosperity. Leveraging this technology to boost various aspects of business activity will prove beneficial both for those who are just starting to go digital and for those who are already on the way. In our work on mining & metals projects, digital twins were seen to bring advantages and profit combined with unveiling of future potential from deploying digital replication in the business model. Successful adoption cases are found among industry leaders who pave the way towards the digital future of mining and metals.

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