It seems like something out of a sci-fi novel: engineers and technicians sitting in an office with large screens and sound systems monitoring, controlling, repairing and running mines from thousands of miles away. Yet, this isn’t a sci-fi novel, technology of this kind is already being used in the Oil and Gas industry and a few mining companies too. The question is, will Remote Operation Centres or Integrated Operation Centres become popular in the sector over the next few years? We caught up with Mr Tony Edwards from Stepchange Global to tell us more.

Video interview with Tony Edwards, CEO of Stepchange Global talks exclusively to Commuro Wire about his experience with Remote Operation Centres in the mining sector.

Q: What is a Remote Operations Centre?

A: A designated area in an office location that supports an asset in the field. It has access to real time data and information, the ability to visualise that data and information and typically, the centre would support in a number of key site processes like; product optimisation, maintenance execution and integrated planning – often with logistics and safety as well.

Q: Why opt for a remote operation centre?

A: For mining companies, we see the primary value is in production optimisation. And now there are a number of case studies where mining companies are making significant improvements in production efficiency within a very short time after they’ve stood up an Integrated Operations Centre – or IOC. Typically, we are now seeing IOC’s paying back in 3-6 months. Opex reduction is another big driver. The main advantages are around maintenance and planning.  There are also tertiary advantages, like manpower. If you’ve got your assets somewhere remote, it is actually quite difficult to get high quality people to work there. Increasingly, 20-somethings are making choices to remain in big city locations.

Q: What about safety?

A: There is a huge safety and integrity win by doing remote operations. The prospect of reducing manning at operational sites and removing people from harm’s way are the key benefits. If you do this for new projects from day one – there is a really opportunity for those projects to be born digital.

Simulation: Automation of Oil and Gas Operations. Could the same apply to mining? Image Courtesy: Stepchange Global

Q: What are the different types of Remote Operations Centres?

A: Typically there are what we call remote operations and engineering support centre – where you have engineers supporting a remote asset. That asset could be a remote mine or an asset in the North Sea. We then see some of these centres are evolving into full remote-control rooms. You can actually control the platform or the mine or the equipment in the mine from this remote location. The third type are expert centres, where you have experts in certain types of disciplines, such as mechanical or rotating equipment, or pipeline operations and those tend to be centrally located and support multiple operations.

Q: How do you go about designing a Remote IOC at Stepchange Global?

A: We can develop a vision and a new operating model. And operating principles for how this IOC is going to work in your current operation. We develop a basis of design for the IOC that includes what processes will be run in the IOC and what teams will run them. We can then develop business cases on what is the likely value that will be derived from moving to an IOC, and what is the likely time for the IOC to payback its investment. We can then engage with your operations and asset teams to get them on board with the idea of an integrated and remote operations centre. We then do a design exercise with those people who will live and work in the centre, so they can own the idea of the centre even before it is built. We then work on the operational readiness piece to get the centre up and running and coaching before and after it goes live.

For some more videos and information on the topic, click here, here and here.

Also, you can go to the Stepchange Global website here.

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