Aurelia Metal’s Peak Mine has several polymetallic underground mines plus an 800ktpa gold and base metals processing plant. It is located in the Cobar Basin in New South Wales Australia. Like all mines and processing plants, Peak Mine has Industrial Control System technologies to monitor and manage processing and moving materials. These technologies also provide functional safety features to allow the protection of people, plant, and the environment.

The quality and integrity of the Industrial Control Systems (ICS) can make or break production. Its reliability and maintenance challenges are not unique to heaving industry driven by input materials, demand and spot pricing.  Other than break fix for activities which are operationally funded, miners expect a clear path from investment planning, to funding to returns. The value of change is a grey area when a system is currently functional, and the returns expected are indirect or related to cost avoidance.

Discovering what’s important to the business

Understanding the technical current state of any system is important to establishing the baseline. The baseline is useful to allow a pathway to journey to some form of future state. However, creating a future state based on the evolution of the current technology or the asset is no reason to leap forward with vigour to any shape of a future state.

The future state goes beyond technology and assets evolution and connects with the business expectations and drivers for success and sustainability. Missing these vital inputs in any journey map means that the destination will have a disappointing view. Operational Excellence may even be achieved, best practice implementation standards may be accomplished, but they may be of limited business value if any.

Investigation and Auditing

Last generation systems and even modern plant and equipment built on a lean budget, fail to benefit from the latest that technology has to offer. In many cases it is not practical to implement or sensible to consider the “latest” due to the risk involved in reconfiguring how a business operates. However, mounting pressure during the new cyber risk era is forcing many organisations to protect themselves from very real “down time” which historically was only due to physical asset failure only.

To establish a good baseline, technology and people systems need to be reviewed in terms of reliability, current operational challenges, business aspirations and the need for better data. Some of these drivers have far reaching benefits as the business needs to operate with increased confidence against its forecast.

The simple process of defining “what you have” produces a clearer picture of areas of risk and exposes more future pain points. The investigation and auditing of systems is far more than organising documents and drawings for consistency. This activity is best served by a hunter, a hunter who goes deep inside operations to flush out key issues and constraints.

Control Systems Advisor

As OT and Control Systems advisors, SMEs need to have a broad perspective as the advice umbrella’s electrical, instrumentation, data, control devices, network devices, software systems, and human factors. There is never time to discover everything that has occurred in the past and why things were done a certain way. These things are nice to know but rarely have a material impact on developing the current state. After the baseline is established, the possible future states can be developed against the backdrop of what is important to the business. Even when items are not important to the business at present, addressing its irrelevance with reason creates a baseline of expectation for the business to refer to when decisions are challenged, and the next improvement ideas surface or resurface with a change in guard. This is about creating a springboard for launching forward, never to return to the previous launch point.

A hunter is camouflaged in a strategic location performing his important role.

Developing Roadmaps

With a clear view of the top business requirements, prioritisation can occur which when balanced by commercial reality starts to shape the roadmap. As indicated previously, singular best case technology and best case asset uplift is something to be avoided.

A good roadmap provides an illustration and timeline expectation for a real journey. As the timeline is woven in with higher business drivers, a program of works articulates the staging of work to traverse the roadmap path with a rational sense of direction. Clarity on why each program is being undertaken gives meaning and purpose and if needed, the information to halt and continue if the inputs change mid journey. The assumptions usually have a time factor and so revalidation should be expected along the way.

Program Development

At Peak Mine, several ICS network and control systems challenges have inhibited good operational performance. Technology end of life considerations, better practices, and cyber risk are just a few of the aspects considered in assessing and evaluating the Operational Management and Control Systems (OMCS). As the program was finalised and the cost benefit presented, it was clear that the next stage beyond Roadmap strategic advice was gloves off deep system analysis and remedial activity.

In developing any program, it is important to develop resourcing options which cater for insourcing, outsourcing, and blended solution delivery. The right combination of resources with defined accountability and controls encourages better results. Just putting people on the payroll and in the same room is unlikely to produce outcomes superior to the ones developed previously. Some of the changes required to produce new outcomes include a refined approach, access to better knowledge, and different engineering methodologies. A coordinated program driven by the validated business requirements, guides progressive decision making and increases corporate support as everyone becomes involved in the journey.

A Consultant drawing a line from point A to point B making an important statement.

Model Predictive Control emulates plant operation