Mining solution provider Orica recently announced its acquisition of infrastructure monitoring provider Terra Insights, a move that signals a shift toward the growing importance of Internet of Things (IoT)-based monitoring solutions in the mining sector.
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Data Dynamite: Orica Acquires Terra Insights
In December 2023, Australia-based Orica, a leading mining and infrastructure solutions provider, announced its acquisition of Canada-based Terra Insights for CAD$505 million after a partnership of nearly 10 years. Terra provides an end-to-end monitoring solution for various infrastructure applications, including sensors, connectivity solutions (including gateways and data loggers), and a software platform. This news comes after Orica announced it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Caterpillar in November to develop integrated workflows across the mining value chain. Improving workflows is critical for leveraging the benefits that Internet of Things (IoT)-based monitoring solutions offer, as it provides customers with better access to actionable insights to improve decision-making.
IoT-based Condition-Based Monitoring (CBM) solutions will play a key role as the mining industry undergoes digital transformation, which is why infrastructure solution providers such as Orica are keen to expand their CBM portfolios to position themselves ahead of competitors.
Unearthing the Value of IoT Monitoring Solutions
Orica’s Digital Solutions business’ focus on gathering orebody intelligence, providing intelligent blasting solutions, monitoring solutions, and simulation technology has allowed the company to go beyond its historic focus as an explosives supplier. Orica shifted its attention toward the monitoring market in 2018 with its acquisition of infrastructure monitoring solution provider GroundProbe. The acquisition of Terra is strategically aligned with Orica’s goal of expanding monitoring capabilities across the mining, oil & gas, and civil infrastructure markets. Furthermore, Terra’s strong presence in North American and European markets will allow Orica to strengthen its position in these geographical markets and diversify revenue channels.
Use cases for IoT-based monitoring solutions range from structural health and geotechnical monitoring of underground tunnels and shafts to monitoring equipment used on sites. India-based Encardio Rite is an example of a Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) and geotechnical monitoring solution provider that offers an end-to-end monitoring solution from sensor to software and is actively looking to expand in the mining sector. A key challenge the mining industry has historically faced is the issue of occupational health and safety. Monitoring parameters such as water pressure, load, lateral movement, deformation, and vibration helps detect signs of structural weaknesses earlier on and can play a crucial role in preventing catastrophic accidents. The ABI Research’s IoT Solutions for Structural Health Monitoring in Critical Infrastructure report (AN-5890) highlights how monitoring solutions like those offered by Terra are used across the mining, rail, road (bridges), dam, building, and construction markets.
On the equipment side, Siemens’ Senseye Predictive Maintenance System offers a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform that monitors the condition of vehicles, fans, pumps, conveyors, mills, and elevators, among other assets, that are prone to breakdowns. The platform generates reports on the condition of the monitored assets and can alert users to changes in parameters (e.g., vibration and temperature data) that point to an upcoming breakdown of the component. The software uses advanced Machine Learning (ML) algorithms to understand the characteristics of each monitored asset and can build models of failure. This allows mining operators to carry out predictive maintenance and prevent costly, unexpected breakdowns that could halt operations.
Adopting structural health/geotechnical and machine monitoring unlocks various benefits for mine operators, including improved safety for workers and reduced downtime. Alongside these drivers, environmental regulation and pressure on mining firms will propel the adoption of real-time monitoring solutions even further. IoT-based sensors can enable operators to track air and water pollution levels in real time and respond more quickly to contamination events, preventing potential environmental disasters.
Striking Digital Gold: Hardware and Software Innovations That Will Drive Greater Value for Mine Operators
ABI Research’s Digital Transformation in the Mining Industry report (AN-5424) and its subsequent update report illustrate how mining companies are increasing efforts to adopt digital transformation to alleviate various pain points such as safety concerns, reducing downtime, and minimizing the adverse effects of mining operations on the environment. ABI Research forecasts the total spend on digitalization to reach US$9.3 billion in 2030 at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5%. CBM solutions are an important part of this wider digitalization effort to transform the mining sector.
Orica’s acquisition of Terra Insights marks a major step in bolstering its position within the SHM market. ABI Research forecasts that the wireless retrofitted sensors for SHM within mining will reach an installed base of 2.2 million by 2030, at a CAGR of 29%. The overall CAGR across the SHM market is 28% for wireless retrofitted sensors and 18% for wired sensors. Beyond the mining sector, Orica can leverage Terra’s products to position itself for future market expansion within other infrastructure segments as well.
Further innovations on the hardware and software front will be instrumental in driving growth within this market. On the hardware side, battery life is a key consideration. Due to the remote and harsh nature of mining operations, companies are looking to install easy-to-deploy wireless sensors to automate monitoring activities and remove miners from harm’s way. Keeping workers away from danger also means limiting maintenance and battery replacements on the devices themselves. While the technology has yet to mature, further development on the energy harvesting side that will allow the use of ambient energy sources (solar, thermal, and mechanical) will drive greater adoption.
Highlighted by Orica’s MoU with Caterpillar, there is also a need to improve workflows and processes. Solution providers should look to increase the functionality of their IoT monitoring platform beyond anomaly detection. By leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI), software specialists can go beyond offering a platform that simply detects an anomaly, to also providing additional information with regard to fault diagnosis and recommendations on what actions to take. The tools and technology to become data-rich are already in place; the true value for mine operators lies in becoming insight-rich to help strengthen decision-making capabilities.