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Australia’s Citic Pacific Mining uses IoT to track vehicles

Perth-based iron-ore mining giant has implemented an analytics and internet of things system from SAP to track its assets and shore up operational efficiency

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With an operating footprint of up to 50km from the mining pit to iron ore carriers, it was easy for Citic Pacific Mining, Australia’s largest magnetite mining company, to lose track of its assets, such as light vehicles, buses and service trucks.

The lack of visibility over those assets had not only disrupted Citic Pacific’s production operations and maintenance, but it also meant the loss of potential fuel tax rebates given to the mining industry.

“We discovered that we could not claim fuel tax rebates for many of our light vehicles because we didn’t know where they were and how far they had travelled,” Ray Achemedei, general manager for information services at Citic Pacific, told Computer Weekly.

The solution came in the form of the internet of things (IoT), enabling the mining company to track its fixed and mobile assets via sensors.

“Sensors are getting cheaper and can be quickly deployed on light buses and trucks,” said Achemedei. “With sensors, we can now gather real-time data on an asset, not just to know where it is, but also its operating conditions. This data can be surfaced in a way that can be acted upon and makes sense to the business.”

There is no shortage of offerings in the burgeoning market for IoT software and services, but Citic Pacific settled on SAP Leonardo, partly because of the software’s integration with existing SAP enterprise resource planning system (ERP) systems.

Unveiled in May 2017, SAP Leonardo is a collection of software and services that offer IoT, machine learning, big data analytics and blockchain capabilities, underpinned by SAP’s microservices-enabled cloud platform for enterprises to build customised extensions for SAP business applications.

“We spent time looking at Leonardo, but the initial investment had to be proven worthwhile to the board,” said Achemedei. “We did a proof of concept that gave the board confidence, because it was extensible to use cases beyond fuel tax rebates and could integrate with our SAP ERP system.”

200% return on investment

The investment soon proved its worth. After deploying the IoT management and data analytics capabilities of SAP Leonardo in just eight weeks, Citic Pacific achieved a 200% return on investment within a few months, just on fuel rebates alone, said Achemedei.

This rapid success spurred Achemedei’s team to explore other use cases, such as using sensors in vehicle engines to facilitate maintenance, as well as tracking the status of vehicles on a dashboard.

“Occasionally, our vehicle operators don’t see alerts, but through a dashboard we can view those alerts centrally and remotely, and know when a vehicle needs to be serviced,” said Achemedei.

For example, if a vehicle’s oil warning light comes on, someone from the operations team can ask the driver to stop the vehicle immediately or to use another one, potentially avoiding a hefty repair bill later on.

Other IoT use cases include optimising the despatch of fuel trucks, which are constantly on the move.

“The fuel trucks literally drive around 24/7 to refuel assets, but sometimes they can’t find the assets or discover that an asset does not require fuel,” said Achemedei. “We are looking at monitoring the fuel levels and locations of assets, so we can send fuel trucks only to those that require refuelling.

Besides its operations teams, Citic Pacific’s health and safety team is keen to use the IoT to make sense of accidents, such as when vehicles hit obstacles such as cows while on the road. “It will help them to understand the speed of the vehicle, as well as driving patterns such as harsh braking,” said Achemedei.

Read more about the IoT in Australia

The company is also exploring the use of wearables, such as smart watches, to monitor the health of employees, as well as to improve workplace safety by using geo-fencing and wearable devices to ensure that only authorised workers operate in high-risk areas.

After all, the holy grail of workplace safety is to minimise the use of workers in high-risk areas by deploying autonomous vehicles. “We are investigating options around autonomous drilling and autonomous trucks further down the road,” said Achemedei.

To ensure Citic Pacific has the skills to roll out emerging technologies such as the IoT and autonomous machines, Achemedei has brought in people from outside the organisation as well as investing in training for the existing workforce.

But the biggest challenge was the change management work involved in getting the company to adapt quickly, so it could maximise the value of Leonardo as the number of stakeholders in the project grew beyond the operations team.

“One of the big objectives of Leonardo was to put in a platform that allows us to be agile and flexible,” said Achemedei. “That has significant implications in terms of getting different departments to change their ways, deliver quickly and on expectation.”

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)

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