The mining industry isn’t noted for its openness to change and technological innovation. However, Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold producer, saw this tech gap as an opportunity instead of an obstacle – a way to differentiate itself in the industry and streamline its business operations.

Barrick had a goal of becoming a “leading 21st century company,” which aligned well to its more specific ambition to lead the conversation around digital transformation in the mining industry. Achieving this goal, however, required a change of perspective around how mining operations are managed, and assessing the possible application of digital solutions that are now more readily available.

“Part of Barrick’s reinvention involved the end-to-end digital reimagining of the flagship Cortez gold mine in Nevada,” said Cisco Systems Inc. marketing manager Melissa Jung in her application on the company’s behalf. “At Cortez, it injected network connectivity and analytics infrastructure into its operation, deploying advanced sensing and monitoring technology, automated equipment, and data monitoring to provide real-time insights from the site.”

“The second part of Barrick’s reinvention involved looking at its business operations at home and exploring solutions to remotely monitor its sites in real time, and building out an enterprise-wide analytics hub that enabled financial and operational benchmarking.”

This is not to say Barrick’s decision to go digital was a no-brainer. There were risks.

“Inherently, the largest risk posed by this project was the capital investment and ensuring that the company got the kind of results it expected,” said Jung. “For an organization like Barrick, the risk of eroding investor confidence is always there. Conversely, there is also the risk of stagnating in the industry as Barrick’s competitors pursue their own digital transformations. At a certain point, Barrick just had to go with its gut — to press ahead with the project and let the chips fall where they may.”

Barrick worked extensively with Cisco and other technology partners to take their plan from vision to reality. The key challenge was ensuring transparency where digital solutions were being tested and implemented, since front-line employees — whose buy-in is crucial — did not have access to the company’s intranet. Leadership toolkits were also produced, and distributed to mine site supervisors so they could get up to speed and then disseminate information around digital projects to frontline employees.

Once Barrick’s plan was finalized, the company made a formal press announcement of their plan and partnership with Cisco, which included a focused campaign trumpeting a new world of opportunities for the organization in the digital age.

The company proceeded to bring digital training and skills development directly to its employees and their families, as well as to community stakeholders. Through Great Basin College in Elko, Nevada, Barrick, in partnership with Cisco, began offering free courses. This initiative will help create new talent pools and career opportunities for Barrick employees, which is particularly important as traditional mining roles transition to digital ones over time.

And although it’s still early days for Barrick’s digital efforts at the Cortez mine, the results are already beginning to come in, including:

  • A Consolidated Data Platform which enables other digital solutions to function.
  • The Underground Short Interval control system, which allows underground equipment operators and supervisors to track vehicles and schedule tasks.
  • Digital work environment tools, which allow mechanics to have a tablet in hand that helps them monitor selected job orders.
  • Processing automation, which has both improved Barrick’s carbon management through operation and analytics, preventing ounce loss; and led to automating carbon and regent control in heap lurching, which means reduced downtime and reagent costs.
  • The Predictive Maintenance team has also developed a usable exhaust failure detection model, which can detect exhaust failures with a six-day lead time.

“These solutions will help Barrick improve the quality and flow of information, helping to drive its people to make better, faster, and safer decisions,” said Jung. “Once Barrick moves beyond the piloting phase at Cortez, it will move on to other sites such as Goldstrike and Turquoise Ridge.”

Barrick Gold is nominated for ITWC’s Digital Transformation Awards, being held June 14 in Toronto.

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