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Digitization vs. Digitalization in Mining?

The evolution of mining

If you, like me, have been wondering what the term digitalization means and what the difference is between digitization and digitalization, then please allow me to use this blog to take you on a short and somewhat simplified journey. I'll trace the history of converting paper and sepia plans into digital formats in order to explain the difference between digitization and digitalization in the mining context.

A visual representation or simply a plan of a mine has long been recognized as an effective management and decision making tool. At first plans were created on paper and sepia and coloured in with crayons and enriched by symbols to give context. It was important to have a set of standards with regards to colours, symbology, line styles etc. Different mining functions contributed to the information on the plans i.e. geology, survey, planning etc. These plans limited us to plan and section views of the mine and was a mission to maintain.

On a typically mine the information for the official plans were created by draughts people who sat at drawing boards and used compasses, dividers, protractors, triangles and other drafting devices to prepare a plan manually from data given to them by the geologists, rock engineers, planners, or surveyors.

Enter digitization: In the late 80's and early 90's the mines adopted CAD (computer aided design) programs. These systems employed computer workstations which created a drawing on a screen. The programs mirrored the manual process and tools that produced paper plans. CAD programs made it easy to prepare many variations of a plan and allow it to be viewed from all angles – even in 3D. The drawings were stored electronically so that variations, revisions or duplicates could be made easily and quickly.

Now the technical team could each build their own plan and add information - typically on a layer assigned to each discipline. The draughts person's role changed in that they were now responsible to collate the plans and ensure that the standards were upheld. They received files from the various disciplines and either copied or referenced those files into the master plan. The plans were printed and distributed, and in meetings or informal discussions notes were regularly made on them. Version control was a nightmare.

Jacqueline Prause in her article Digitization vs. Digitalization – Wordplay or World View? quotes her husband's response “If I scan a document, I digitize it. But I would digitalize a factory.” Therefore using her example, if I create a plan in CAD I digitize it, but I would digitalize a mine.

If I create a plan in CAD I digitize it,

but I would digitalize a mine.

Digitalization in the mining industry therefore speaks of a journey towards interconnected, integrated operations with agile planning, integrated master business schedules, action tracking, rule based event escalation and management. Where outcomes are evaluated against all levels of planning objectives i.e. Strategic, Tactical and Operational. Where the Commercial ERP is not only connected to the Mining ERP but rather where mining actions can be translated and reflected as commercial transactions allowing the mine to be run like a factory. Where portfolio management and optimization is based on scenario planning across the enterprise. Ultimately enabling the mining companies to be more effective and stay competitive.

"The real opportunity for the mining industry is to create the fully digitally enabled integrated enterprise for full enterprise optimization". - Rick Howes

I think that Rick Howes, CEO of Dundee Precious Metals, at a recent executive briefing on digitally transforming the mining industry at SAP in Johannesburg, articulated the destination of the journey of digitalization when he stated "the real opportunity for the mining industry is to create the fully digitally enabled integrated enterprise for full enterprise optimization".

Industry leader MineRP's Spatial Data Infrastructure (MineRP 4.0), enables vertical integration across disparate technical systems and functional departments and horizontal integration between the Mining ERP and the Commercial ERP.

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