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Proficy Smart Factory - MES Solutions

Niobec Revitalizes Mine with 95% Autonomous Data Management

Introduction

Industry

Digital Mining and Metals Solutions

Products

Proficy Plant Applications, CIMPLICITY

Product Categories

Proficy Smart Factory - MES Solutions, Proficy HMI / SCADA

Reliable, actionable data improves operations

Excavating Potential

The Saint-Honoré Niobec mine, located in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, is the only underground niobium operation in the world and currently leads the three top producers of niobium worldwide.

 

Niobec has been a long-time user of GE Vernova's CIMPLICITY HMI/SCADA software for supervisory monitoring and control.

 

Faced with lengthy manual laboratory data management processes, Niobec turned to GE Vernova solution provider Premier Tech Digital to explore an MES solution - wanting to help employees save time and focus on quality improvement as well as proactively optimizing tools and operational analyses.

 

Following assessment meetings with all department heads to gain a deeper understanding of operations and specific issues, Premier Tech Digital designed and implemented an MES solution featuring Proficy Plant Applications that:

 

  • Improved efficiency and reliability
  • Decreased costs and boosted profitability
  • Increased quality
  • Accelerated reactivity and automated traditionally manual tasks

Results from digital innovation

Premier Tech Digital's solution for Niobec demonstrates the value of a centralized data collection, storage, and processing system in the management of production processes. Using a step-wise approach allowed for greater and simpler integration of the solution, granting Niobec continuous tailored support and coaching from Premier Tech Digital. 

 

In terms of reliability, Niobec significantly increased data accuracy due to the following factors:

 

  • Reduction of erroneous data caused by centralizing databases and removing manual entry
  • Consistent and timely access to information by all departments in real time
  • Better traceability of actions taken on the data thanks to user authentication

 

In terms of responsiveness, the ability to act more quickly on out-of-bounds data resulted in significant gains in terms of cost efficiency and quality. The system has further helped to:

 

  • Simplify the data entry and consolidation processes
  • Revaluate the work of quality, research, and development managers
  • Gain plasticity in managing product properties based on collected data
  • Intercept out-of-bound results more quickly

Challenges

In an effort to free its environmental laboratory sample team from manual and repetitive tasks, Niobec sought to acquire a solution that would allow the company to centralize and systematize laboratory analyses and data, to base decisions on. Two main issues motivated their need for a technological solution: data reliability and system responsiveness.

 

Reliability: Prior to consulting with Premier Tech Digital’s smart manufacturing solutions, once the laboratory data was obtained, all subsequent steps from pooling all this data into a database, to sharing the information confidentially and securely, were handled manually. Therefore, the solution had to facilitate the following:

 

  • Automatic importation and access of the external laboratory data
  • Notifications triggered by manually reviewed instances in the database 
  • Managing the various sampling parameters 
  • Real-time synching between interconnected communication systems 
  • Secure-by-design platform login management 

 

Responsiveness: While the data handling was a significant factor, data processing and analysis were equally paramount. Since the intervention window is very short in the operation, the solution required saving time in identifying problematic data and its accuracy. The solution therefore had to enable:

 

  • Automatic identification of out-of-range data accompanied by a notification
  • Easy access of cross-laboratory data and report sharing
  • Easy access of cross-laboratory data and report sharing

Designing & implementing OT digital transformation

To address these challenges, Niobec chose GE Vernova's Proficy Plant Applications. Premier Tech Digital’s 25 years of experience in the smart manufacturing field were an asset in integrating and configurating the system.

 

The team took steps to improve Niobec’s management efficacy and reliability:

 

  • Integrating a program to automatically import environmental results from external laboratories into an on-site centralized database
  • Automating the result entry from the equipment within the internal laboratory into the database
  • Incorporating access management to the MES through a user authentication program

 

Additionally, the team configured features in terms of system responsiveness requirements:

 

  • Configuring alarms to signal non-compliant results based on required data formats
  • Automating the interception of out-of-range results and triggering a real-time call-to-action notification to departments 
  • Setting up an approval system to evaluate the results and ensure data certification has been put in place

Digital transformation in action

With the modular implementation approach of GE Digital's Proficy Plant Applications software by Premier Tech Digital’s specialists, Niobec is progressing in its digital transformation of operations and is on the way to maximize efficiency by automating key processes.

 

System installations account for downtime tracking and historization through the Plant Applications Efficiency module. The quality module and genealogy module introduce comprehensive traceability. Consequently, the demanding water treatment operations and tracking were almost entirely automatized, with the exception of one older machine.

 

Reliability: The new system eradicated errors that were historically problematic and costly due to manual data entry. By freeing up their environmental laboratory sample technicians from manual and repetitive tasks, Niobec saw an increase in workplace efficiency due to the return of valorizing work. Furthermore, the consolidation of data sources into a central database has reduced the need to manipulate files that could lead to data loss and and costly reporting mistakes.

 

Responsiveness: In parallel to laboratory-associated technicians, the QR&D team has also witnessed an exponential growth in efficiency. The responsiveness of the system resulted in their ambitions focusing on additional cross-sectional tasks with greater added value.

Next steps

Working with Premier Tech Digital, Niobec has plans to develop and integrate specific schedules and metrics to simplify the traceability of processes in terms of perpetual and reliable data accountability. The team's integrated smart manufacturing solutions powered by Proficy Plant Applications cater to complete tracking for government-monitored sampling.

About Premier Tech Digital

Premier Tech Digital helps companies get higher efficiencies from their manufacturing facilities. By bringing digital solutions to life, we help our clients seize opportunities and overcome challenges to increase plant performance and generate higher returns on their manufacturing assets.

 

Drawing on our in-depth expertise, we carefully assess client needs to deliver solutions precisely tailored to their requirements and expectations. Long-term success is assured through knowledge transfer to our clients’ teams, giving them full ownership of the system once operational. We are more than integrators; we are your smart manufacturing partners.

 

We create smart manufacturing solutions. Building on more than 25 years of experiences in increasing efficiency at the plant level through the implementation of manufacturing execution systems, our team of 50+ experts develops tailor-mode solutions that leverage real-time equipment data to track and optimize manufacturing facilities.

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