With a desire to establish a lead in the mining sector through innovation amidst a worldwide digital transformation, ANDRITZ, which provides industry-specific products and solutions for sectors including mining, has a history of setting the bar high.
With the task of embracing the right technology to drive operations forward vital to growth in all fields, the mining sector is often considered slower to adopt new software. However, ANDRITZ remains determined to enable mining operations all over the world to bridge the gap between concept and production, facilitate operational readiness and stay ahead of the curve. The firm has made a significant impact in the mining space in recent years, winning the prestigious #DisruptMining 2019 innovation competition through its disruptive Digital Twin technology capable of training artificial intelligence (AI). “It was a very exciting experience and a little bit surreal to win the competition. We couldn’t quite believe it,” says Arthur Gooch, Director of Innovation at ANDRITZ. “There's a fair amount of pressure associated with the event so it all happened in a bit of a blur.” The competition, hosted by gold mining giants Goldcorp and now in its third year, had approximately 90 submissions from mining firms to showcase the technologies they have implemented to drive innovation in the sector. “It was amazing when we were on the stage,” adds Sohail Nazari, Business Development Manager of ANDRITZ. “It’s vital that you spend a lot of time ensuring that everything on your application is correct.”
The competition is whittled down until three finalists remain. “Once we became a finalist, it's a Shark Tank style competition and the final three go on stage,” explains Nazari. “They pitch their ideas to the judges with 500 people watching in the audience. It’s fair to say it’s a high-pressured event, and the stakes were really high, but after we were announced as the winner, we all felt a massive relief and were incredibly satisfied.”
Having impressed the judges with its dynamic simulator, IDEAS, the tool is now enabling operations across the sector to reduce risk and experience considerable cost savings. The software is considered the leading dynamic simulator for oil sands operations in the north of Canada and for hard rock mining operations worldwide. Gooch explains how his company is utilising Digital Twin software. “The first physical model is like a software wrapper for all of the engineering equations that we know define each piece of equipment,” he says. “For example, if we have a pipe, we know that there are correlations between pipe geometry, surface roughness, the pressure across the pipe as well as the pipe’s flow rate. Those equations, alongside those for every other piece of equipment, get embedded into objects in the model in a graphical format. This allow us to connect them together, and it means that when someone wants to figure out what is going on in the plant, it's not a matter of solving a number of equations. Instead, it’s setting the conditions and the operating points – like the positions of valves and the set points of controllers – enables the simulation to replicate the behavior of real running equipment.”
“Engineers make mistakes like everyone else in life. However, when you build the simulation model, you actually go through all these designs and it allows you to ensure the design is going to work. It highlights any mistakes that are made,” adds Nazari. “We build the model, validate the design and ensure that it includes all the concepts on physics, chemistry, control systems, metallurgy, or whatever the plant is for. It's all there. Then, we make sure that the design will work under different scenarios before we connect the model into the control system, even before the plant is built.”
Following its success, Gooch affirms that ANDRITZ continues to take innovation seriously to avoid complacency and ensure it differentiates itself from rivals. “It's a constant process of trying to review the technology we have and look at how we can take new strides with the things we couldn't do yesterday.” Reflecting on his company’s achievements, Nazari affirms how teamwork has been key to ANDRITZ’ endeavors. “This success definitely comes down to teamwork,” says Nazari. “The things that we are accomplishing in our division, with regards to AI at ANDRITZ, are made possible by the leadership culture in place to support this and help push for innovation. We are passionate and we are one team working together to innovate – it is so important.”
With sustainability considered a key pillar at ANDRITZ, Gooch points out how crucial it is that, despite success, the company doesn’t take on more projects than it’s capable of delivering. “I believe managerial prudence and caution are certainly key to ensuring sustainability,” he says. “We’ve experienced a tremendous flurry of activity; however, we have had to be quite deliberate and restrained regarding how many people we approach. At some point, we could potentially run the risk of making promises that we simply wouldn't have the resources to execute in the agreed timescale.”
Looking to the future, Nazari aspires for ANDRITZ to become the default provider of Digital Twin technology in mineral processing and pulp and paper. “With our well established process simulation technology, ANDRITZ is becoming a natural frontrunner of this innovation and is being considered as a pioneer in the use of real time Digital Twins for optimizing the process and to better monitor the conditions from the process point of view,” explains Nazari. “The plan for the next few years is to continue to push innovation through more showcases, and we’re going to undergo a large evolution of how the mineral processing and pulp and paper is going to work. We're going to automate and then optimize as much as possible. This is what we at ANDRITZ have at the forefront of our thoughts.”