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Industrial Minerals (IM) producers are experiencing a global innovation challenge, with many companies finding themselves navigating the impact of direct sourcing, digitisation and sustainability in an industry of global importance.

Increasing digital maturity and opting for more efficient technology is a key focus, and rapid transformation presents a significant opportunity for IM producers to reap the benefits that other industries have enjoyed for many years.

It seems anomalous that in an industry heavily dependent on rapid and effective operations, where optimisation is a constant goal, digital transformation is being adopted very slowly.
BCG’s Digital Acceleration Index estimates that the mining industry is roughly 30% to 40% less digitally mature than comparable industries, such as automotive or chemicals.

Ismail Sirsalanne Group Industry 4.0 Manager at Imerys is optimistic for the sector

“Digital transformation makes our companies more competitive in a challenging economic context and helps us answer our customers’ demands. IM companies have the opportunity to profit from digital transformation and make their businesses more profitable.”

Value far beyond systems and processes

Digital transformation has become such a broad catch-all term for technology related change in business, that it can be difficult to provide a single definition for what Digital Transformation would mean to your IM operations.

Nathan Furr in the HBR explains that Managers often think that digital transformation is primarily about technology change. Of course, technology change is involved—but smart companies realise that transformation is ultimately about better serving customer needs.

Whether upgrading on existing systems or introducing innovative technology, change should focus on reducing uncertainty in your business, understanding variability, and ensuring consistency through your supply chain to deliver a high quality, consistent product to your customers.

Lafarge Holcim’s Group Lead Geologist Rodolfo Vargas is seeing the benefits of digital transformation through a “reduction in environmental impacts and a key driver in bringing down extraction costs through greater efficiencies.”

The best digital transformations require preemptive changes rather than reacting to competitive pressures, says Martin Reeves, of BCG’s Henderson Institute.

This blog aims to explore how the IM sector can face digital transformation challenges and turn them into business opportunities.

Challenge: Does digital transformation have to be expensive and complex?

In short, no. Transformation projects will require investment, but incremental change focused on the right areas will enable your business to effectuate change without significant cost or risk.

So, where to start?
Rainer Westermann, Group Geology & Mining Director at Lhoist, reminds us that

 “understanding the raw material resources is the basis of our entire business.”

IM companies collect valuable data every day from their sites, impacting extraction targets, site operations planning, safety and more. However, inefficiencies in these processes are impacting on the value being extracted from those resources.

The challenge is not the cost. Like the $2.5m per annum operating cost savings realised at one Lafarge Holcim plant, the challenge is how to demonstrate the value of investing in resource knowledge.

Challenge: Is digital transformation disruptive?

Negative disruption arises when data is unable to be relied on, workflows contain many workarounds, and communication is difficult or absent. It is likely inefficient processes are already disrupting your business. Current siloed processes that impede the flow of data and knowledge result in a range of lost opportunities to improve your operations.

Disruption can be positive. By implementing systems and processes that break down existing barriers, provide teams with greater clarity of information and promote collaboration, existing ways of working will become obsolete. Teams will discover new insights and ways to work together to solve the biggest issues effecting the industry and ultimately maximise the value of your resources.

Brenda Lothion, formerly of Heidleberg, Sibleco and Imerys sees digital transformation as

“pushing better collaboration and communication across the business,” insisting that we have to “stop working in silos and start working together.”

Challenge: Will transformations, aimed at increasing sustainability, come at a high cost to the business?

Sustainable practices and digital transformation have parallel aims and are now practically synonymous with efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

The Industrial Minerals Association Europe 2050 Roadmap declared that the minerals sector must be driven by resource efficiency and that waste reduction is a key part of this ambition. The idea being that efficiencies which boost sustainability will trickle down through the value chain, reducing consumption by improving the performance of the end product.

Without integrated systems that contain reliable data and provide a transparent and current view of your site and geology, it is almost impossible to identify such efficiencies. With clarity and confidence in your data, you can confidently budget and plan for the optimal application of resources, both mechanical and human, to extract the ore and manage waste.

Lafarge Holcim are leading the way in this area and Rodolfo Vargas shares how digital transformation mutually supports sustainability.

“New technologies help us to improve geological knowledge, improve extraction procedures, and reduce rock waste generation. The accurate raw materials knowledge enables us to optimize (minimize) the natural mineral resources we use, enabling a circular economy by substituting them with waste or by-products.”

Sustainability is no longer a checkbox to be ticked when you make important business decisions, and digital transformation is not just about installing better technology. They are both primary pathways to more reliable, efficient operations, positive product perception, customer confidence and business profitability.

Where to start and how to continue with digital transformation:

Start with where you are now. Examine your business goals, analyse your current resource and process efficiency, consider your product quality data, and operational costs. Talk to the teams in your business who have deep insights and long-term knowledge.

You might be just beginning or part way along. Wherever you are now, there are industry leaders already forging ahead with digital transformation, including companies like Lhoist, Lafarge Holcim and Imerys. They have lessons to pass on.

Change is not just a business focus. As Ismail Sirsalanne, Group Industry 4.0 Manager at Imerys wisely points out,

“changing the business culture is as important as the technology”.

You are not alone on this journey; successful implementation requires strong partnerships with industry leading companies.

With years of experience, Seequent has worked closely with Industrial Minerals companies to effect successful and personalised Digital Transformation initiatives focused on geoscience data.

Watch our purpose-designed webinar Digital Transformation in Industrial Minerals.

In the webinar, we walk you through the value of geoscience data and its role in the journey to transformation. We take a look at the Seequent software that’s achieving proven success for Lafarge Holcim and other IM companies. In this session we share real-world examples of how our customers have reduced operating costs by more than $2.5million USD per year, decreased stripping ratio from 7:1 to 1.5:1 and developed more sustainable mining operations.

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