May 2012

Raw data revolution

Technology standards committee to launch at CIM Conference

By Dan Zlotnikov

It has taken two years of hard work to prepare for the official launch of the CIM Technology Standards Committee. What started as a casual conversation about shared frustrations took time to gel into an ambitious project: bringing the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), original technology manufacturers (OTMs) and operators together in an effort to develop a global data exchange standard.

“Most of us buy equipment in various years and we don’t buy it all from one vendor,” explained Mark Bartlett, director of Open Pit Mining Innovation at Newmont Mining Corp. and a member of the committee. “Most sites today are a mixed-machine environment, and that’s what’s causing problems.”

The challenge of integrating tools and systems from multiple vendors is difficult, sometimes even impossible. A frequent, less than ideal solution involves running multiple systems in parallel with dedicated displays in the cab of each machine, but this runs the risk of slowing down or distracting the operator.

Similar issues plague those who try to implement fleet-wide solutions, such as machine health monitoring. “Trying to get vital statistics from engines and other operating systems onboard to a central place has been difficult because different makes of equipment output in different and usually proprietary formats,” Bartlett said.

These issues also impact OEMs, said Bob Hicks, manager of technology products for the “P&H”-brand surface mining solutions being marketed by Joy Global Inc., and fellow committee member. Clients often ask if they could interface P&H machines with third party equipment. “Extracting information from our systems and integrating it into third-party systems becomes a very ad-hoc, per-customer event, and requires much more engineering and development resources than if there were a standard,” he explained.

However, Bartlett said some OEMs have reservations about a common standard. “The concern is that providing all of that information in an open-source format would allow competitors to understand what the machine is calculating in a proprietary algorithm,” he pointed out.

Hicks acknowledged that algorithms are highly valued by the OEMs. “We may take the raw data and write a sophisticated algorithm around it that calculates dipper position in 3D space,” he noted. “That is in essence what we’d consider intellectual property and is something we wouldn’t want to share with other vendors of technologies and products.”

But Hicks said this need not prevent the raw sensor output from being shared, which is the data the committee is hoping to get.

Bartlett said the committee has spent the last two years putting together a wish list of sensor outputs, “so that the OEMs know we don’t want the proprietary algorithms, just outputs from sensors that are already onboard.”

P&H and other OEMs, in turn, have responded with a list of outputs they are able to provide, explained Hicks. “The next step is to put a data model together defining the type of data, how it’s stored and accessed – in essence develop this standard.”

Hicks said there are examples of smaller-scale “standards” in the industry. With its Centurion supervisory control and data acquisition system, for example, P&H developed a universal shovel interface for dispatch systems.

“It’s a standard we’d developed based on Modular, Jigsaw and Wenco – the various dispatch providers,” he explained. “We met with a dispatch provider and collectively agreed what types of data would enhance both our onboard tools. The types of data we’d like to see help enhance our tool from a fleet optimization and dispatch perspective.” One of these interoperability efforts may serve as the core of a future global standard, eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel.

The other challenge is to make this initiative truly global to ensure the standard is accepted by the industry as a whole. Bartlett has been speaking to operators in an effort to get more people behind the idea. “It’s not a matter of getting everybody to participate, but we’re trying to be as inclusive as we can in the effort,” he said.

For his part, Hicks feels that if enough operators – especially the multinational giants – started asking for standardized outputs, the OEMs would have to deliver. “If the users globally request a common standard for data, it will happen much faster than if individual OEMs and OTMs were to drive for the same thing.”

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