Intelligent Automation: The Secret Behind Sustainable Productivity In The Cement And Mining Industry
By Stephen Raphael, Head – Financial Shared Services, FLSmidth and Venkatesh Narayanan, Head, Group Digital Operations, FLSmidth
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led many industries to rapidly adopt emerging technologies such as Intelligent Automation to cope with front and back-office tasks. The cement and mining industry has been no different, despite ‘mining automation’ gaining increased adoption over the last few years, the core processes of the industry involve the physical extraction or handling of materials. So, the usage of Intelligent Automation will be better deployed towards process re-engineering and sustainable productivity.
In the cement and mining industry, digital transformation refers to a lot of initiatives and technologies that reduces time spent, lowers cost of production, and enhances production efficiency. All while meeting regulatory requirements and maximizing yield. For instance, top leadership can view intelligent dashboards that give insights into the state of the business. The supply chain can undergo transformation to give every player a bird’s eye view into the logistics network. Or financial managers can leverage automation to divide resources more efficiently. Whatever the application, terms such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotic process automation are becoming commonly accepted in the industry.
The role of automation in the cement and mining industry
Cement and mining are a fundamental part of every economy, and mankind in general. But it comes with physical risks to personnel involved in the manual extraction. One of the key objectives of automation is to reduce physical risks. Through sensing and computing technology, the industry can thus create a safer environment. Common examples of technology used for this purpose are - satellite communication, IoT, automated truck hauls and more. Mining automation thus covers a broad spectrum of activities that help create a risk-free and effective operational structure.
Be it through equipment, software or communication technology, automation is now changing the game for the cement and mining industry. With an increased focus on sustainable productivity, deeper insights delivered by automation can actively enable industry players to strengthen their market share.
Automation’s impact at FLSmidth
At FLSmidth, the digital transformation journey began by implementing Intelligent Automation a few years back. We first deployed RPA tools in 2018 in partnership with Automation Anywhere for simple but repetitive tasks that didn’t require decision making. We have subsequently leveraged our partnership with Automation Anywhere to automate more complex processes such as cash applications, automatic payment processing and invoice processing. In 2019, the human equivalent of 27,000 hours of work was performed by ‘Software Bots’, 2020 has made the Automation journey even more progressive.
The vision now is to continue this positive growth trajectory and leverage automation to further improve core operations and automate more complex tasks. In fact, the team at FLSmidth is currently leveraging ‘Software Bots’ to identify processes that are well-suited for automation and creating a self-fulfilling virtuous cycle of augmented business processes. This can be achieved by deploying cognitive and AI based technologies to extract multi-language unstructured data from various vendors.
The short time span of developing and deploying bots has convinced stakeholders at FLSmidth that barriers to automation can easily be conquered and end-to-end processes can be automated to deliver value in a measurable and standardized manner. This is driving adoption of automation in multiple locations and also leading to the setup of Centre of Excellence (CoE) to augment further implementation of Intelligent Automation.
Towards an automated future
It remains to be seen, what the long-term impact of Intelligent Automation in the cement and mining industry will be. The good news is that core processes in the industry have a lot of potential to be automated, and this makes digital transformation a key focus area for decision makers. Whether this comes via the modernization and retrofitting of existing plants and equipment, or by re-engineering processes and installations, is a matter of choice for industry players. What’s clear is that automation in the industry is here to stay and it is a critical first step for digital transformation initiatives to achieve maturity.
*The views expressed here are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint.