Summarize your company business and current projects you are involved in.
Eramet is French mining and metallurgical company with a presence in 20 countries. We are producing Nickel (mines and FeNi plants), Manganese (mines and Mn alloys plants), Zircon, Titanium and high-performance alloys. I am in charge to implement Digital Transformation: To connect geology to economy To optimize our processes thanks to Big Data and Artificial Intelligence To ensure the traceability and quality of our products.
Tell us a bit about your prestigious company, “Eramet” please.
Eramet is a French mining and metallurgical company with a presence in 20 countries and 13,000 employees. The Group is a key player in the extraction and valorization of metals (nickel, manganese, mineral sands, lithium) and the elaboration and processing of alloys with a high added value (high-speed steels, high-performance steels, superalloys, aluminum and titanium alloys).
We are extracting nickel in New Caledonia and Indonesia, manganese in Gabon (the first worldwide manganese mine), mineral sands in Senegal; we are producing ferronickel in New Caledonia and manganese alloys in Norway, Gabon, the USA and France. Moreover, we are currently developing in Argentina, a lithium extraction process with the objective to produce lithium battery-grade in the coming years. We also are a railway company as we are operating the train transportation in Gabon and also in Senegal.
Eramet positions itself as the privileged partner of its customers in sectors that include carbon and stainless steel, aerospace, pigments, energy, and new battery generations. Last but not least, Corporate Social Responsibility is at the centre of our strategic model to position the Group as a committed and contributive corporate citizen.
What do you think “Digital” means in mining, say when you are operating in the Gabonese rainforest or in an island in the Pacific?
This is exactly the 1st question I had to answer when I was appointed as the Group Chief Digital Officer. I mobilized and worked with the entire business organization (mines, plants) and support functions (HR, IT, purchasing, sales, HSE …) to define the digital transformation vision and strategy for Eramet.
We defined a vision in 3 axes:
To connect the geology to the economy, in order to ensure a digital continuity on the all-value chain of our metals, from the prospection and the extraction to the selling.
To optimize our processes with Big Data and Artificial Intelligence.
To ensure the traceability of our products from the extraction or elaboration to our clients.
Based on this vision we launched Numerous digital transformation projects were performed in order to build the data basements and to transform the way to work on the field: use of drones and IoT for a better environmental footprint monitoring, collision avoidance systems to improve operating safety, fleet and fuel management systems to reduce energy consumption and optimize the ore extraction, topographic measurements by drones, … IT and infrastructure roadmaps were also reviewed in order to support the transformation: move to the cloud, digital solutions, and agile methodologies, OT standardization, new telecommunication systems.
How can the “Digital” mining process help contribute to metallurgists or geologists, especially the ones from those golden old days?
Digital is a key lever to increase our performance and to re-think the way we are operating. For example, a topographer is becoming a drone pilot, as drone is allowing to cover more than hundreds of surfaces than with traditional methods. A metallurgist is also becoming a “data-metallurgist” as AI is becoming key in alloys production at Eramet.
And of-course predictive maintenance and reducing our energy consumption are very important as our ambition to increase our productivity level to serve the energetical transition.
As the understanding of Digital and Data are very important in our operations, we developed specific training programs for our employees from acculturation (e-learning and events) to certification in Data Science. More than 10 people were certified in 2020 in New Caledonia.
How do you think can “Digital” support the ambition of Eramet to turn to the energetical transition?
Eramet is the only European mining entity with world-class mineral deposits in all critical metals for the energy transition: nickel, cobalt and lithium. To support this transition, we need to increase our productivity and to be the best in class in our CSR policy. And Digital is definitely a strong lever for that. For example, we are currently testing the implementation of the traceability of our metals, especially CSR data, in order to develop the certification and the respect of the “Responsible Mine” label that France and Europe are putting in place. We also are improving our productivity thanks to digital by implementing Integrated Remote Operations Centers in New Caledonia and Gabon. A strong operational transformation to be ready to provide the metals for the energetical transition!
What are the main Digital Transformation programs that you’ve developed at Eramet or elsewhere and what have been your intention behind each one?
Sure. We structured internally our approach in 3 main programs: Mine 4.0, Plant 4.0 and Logistics 4.0. Our objective is to maximize the roll-out of the digital solutions within all the sites where they could be addressed. For the Mine 4.0 program, our objective is that all our mines are connected mine with an exemplary CSR approach. Thanks to digital we want to improve Employee Safety, the optimization of operations in the field, the responsible resource management and the real-time supply chain management. The use of drones also enables environmental monitoring and surveillance. Connected trucks improve driver safety and industrial performance. Artificial Intelligence programs developed by the Group’s data scientists, in conjunction with start-ups, analyze this data with the aim of creating digital twins of the mines in real time. Thanks also to drone topography, our objective is to deploy a spatial digital twin of each of our mines.
The Plant 4.0 program puts artificial intelligence at the heart of our processes. The diversity of the Eramet Group’s operations is reflected in its plants, which face different challenges. Thanks to the use of artificial intelligence, digital transformation is enabling us to rethink the way each production process is conducted. We also are reducing and optimizing our energy consumption and carbon footprint thanks to dedicated algorithms. To improve the maintenance of our sites is also key through predictive maintenance and remote machine monitoring with IoT.
The Logistics 4.0 program is currently mainly focused on the Gabonese railway. We are operating a single 648-km track that extends across the equatorial forest, passing through many areas of unstable terrain, with crossings only possible at stations. The Setrag company is employing digital technology to improve its operations, focusing on 3 key areas: Improving rail traffic management, optimizing the management of rolling stock and infrastructure monitoring and maintenance. Thanks to our Digital and Data factory, we developed numerous Digital solutions in less than 12 months in order to help the traffic optimization.
For example, we developed a dedicated predictive maintenance tool using AI to optimize interventions in risk areas in order to avoid delays.
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Do you make use of AI in your programs, and how important or not important do you think it is?
Yes, Data science and AI are a strong part of our Digital Transformation program. Since 2018 we have appointed a Data Science Team headed by a Chief Data & AI officer.
We are developing and operating together with the IT Department new digital and data solutions developed thanks to new methodologies like Design Thinking and Agile methodologies. We are working with best-in-class partners like Capgemini and Microsoft. More than 50 people are involved in our Digital and Data factory.
AI algorithms are connected to our production of silicomanganese in Norway and Ferronickel in New Caledonia: in real time algorithms are processing data from numerous sensors and data sources to give recommendations to metallurgists.
These recommendation and Data solutions were developed with the metallurgists and based on their knowledges. We also developed algorithms to optimize the lead time of our high-speed steel production facilities in Sweden and France.
In our mines we are working on new geological modelling using AI as in Senegal. And we now want also to work with our support functions to develop these Data approaches in HR, purchasing, etc.
What have you done to monitor the Global Value Chain at Eramet?
Monitoring our global value chain thanks to Digital and Data is key for us in the coming years. For that we are implementing Integrated Remote Operation Centers in Nickel and Manganese value chains. In New Caledonia we operate 5 Nickel mines spread over the whole territory.
Each mine has a specific chemistry composition and this is a special mix of all the ores that feed our metallurgical facility. Moreover, a part of the ore extracted is directly sold to clients. This is then a complicated set up to manage.
Centralizing all the data from the different mines is allowing us to re-think the way we are operating: we can optimize in real time the production, be more agile on the short term planification and strongly correlated with the demand of our clients. The first IROC version was inaugurated in last February 2021.
In Gabon, we will fluidify our supply chain (mine, train, port) thanks to the centralization of our data and the way to take the better decision in real time. This is a major transformation based on the 3 pillars: people, process and technology.
Thanks to IROC, Eramet mines will fully be 21st century mines!