We sat down with Edson Antonio , Vale’s Global AI Manager, to discuss how they’re creating a global AI platform and promoting digital transformation across the business.


Could you tell me how Vale went about creating their global AI platform?

We realised we needed to take advantage of digital transformation. When we started three years ago digital transformation was still at its humble beginnings and we didn’t know if it would have a major impact on the industry. Which is shocking given that now all mining companies must embrace digital technologies if they are to boost their profits.

The first thing we had to deal with when integrating AI into operations was internal scepticism. Many employees had not bought into the AI culture. We’ve found that internal resistance can be a major roadblock on the path to digital integration and it can stop a project before it even starts.

To overcome this, we initially did a problem assessment across all our mine sites and plants to identify bottlenecks and understand how they are impact operations. We soon realised that we had the same problems across the company, notably, asset health.

We then looked at how we could overcome these challenges using agile methodology in one of our pelletizing plants and one of our mine sites in the North of Brazil. As soon as these pilot projects saw success, then employees from other sites were eager to hear how AI could optimize their operations as well. So, after that it was much easier to roll it our across the company.


So what do you think was the main contributing factor to the success of the project?

Overall, I would say that for any of these kinds of projects to be successful, then you need to have a clear focus on the next steps after the initial success. For us, we realised that the key areas to focus on were asset health, process optimization and HSE. We are now collaborating closely with the maintenance teams, to achieve this.


I see, asset health is going to be a big part of the Toronto conference, how have you found that AI has added value to this area?

Well asset health is not a new topic in mining. The biggest value that AI can add to this area is in working alongside IOT and big data to consolidate vast amounts of data sources and finding commonalities. This can then help us move from reactive to proactive maintenance.


And what is the ROI of doing this?

There are a few different ROIs. Firstly, in some areas it’s about optimizing the number of hours the machine works. For example, imagine you want an engine to run for 16,000 hours. Normally to achieve this the service provider will recommend that at 8,000 you do a mid-life assessment and replace certain components to ensure that you can meet that 16,000 hours. AI is helping us eliminate this costly process and only replace the components that are at risk of failure, which will save us both time and money on new equipment.

Another key area is understanding how external factors like roads are impacting machinery. By comparing assets, we can see how each machine is operating and see if we need to intervene to improve its performance.


What are you looking forward to at Mines and Technology Toronto?

Apart from giving my own keynote presentation, I am looking forward to hearing from the other speakers. When I last looked at the agenda I saw that there were a lot of senior decision makers already on the agenda. I am looking forward to networking with them and understanding the challenges they faced when developing their own technology projects. Hopefully by the end we will have a WhatsApp group, so we can stay in touch and keep giving each other advice!



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