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Newcrest develops data models to transform operations – from bedrock to boardroom

Newcrest Mining has set itself an ambitious goal of net zero operational carbon emissions by 2050.

Enabling this ambitious goal are the data and the digital technologies that are helping to streamline the business in operating gold and copper mines worldwide, delivering insights that will support every employee from bedrock to boardroom.

Optimising the value of assets and maximising sustainability are critical to Newcrest’s enduring success, and like many businesses the company has worked to overcome the challenges of pandemic-related lockdowns. Access to Microsoft cloud-based platforms supported the business when many of its people started working remotely and is now helping to build a data platform to support and drive sustainability across the organisation.

It’s critical to get the digital foundations right, says Gavin Wood, Chief Information Officer at Newcrest.

“I’m a big believer that when it comes to technology – and I’m talking about all technology, not just the IT world – complexity is the thing that kills you,” he says. According to Wood, when things are complex, everything takes longer and the business increasingly relies on a limited number of people who understand the technology portfolio.

It’s better to have simpler architectures and technology portfolios with fewer partners, where you have deeper partnerships and you work closely together, and you benefit from the integration that comes with this approach.

Man in safety clothing inspecting a mining building
By building a digital twin platform, Newcrest can understand what is going on at individual mine sites and across the global business (Source: Newcrest Mining)

Newcrest’s strategic partnership with Microsoft has been forged with that in mind. Azure now supports the company’s mining operations around the world.

“I listen to people speak at conferences or in webinars about multi-cloud and hybrid cloud, and the idea of having multiple providers, where you have to have the plumbing and the network going to all of them. Having that optimised so it works on an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea as well as it does in an office in Melbourne makes things far more difficult than they need to be,” says Wood.

“I know people might think it’s cool, but they’re just adding unnecessary complexity to their technology portfolio that makes them slow and expensive. We’re consistently in the top quartile of cost – as in lowest cost – and in many cases, best in class in our cost benchmarks. I think that’s because we’ve really gone hard on complexity in our portfolio, so we’ve got it as simple as it can be.

“Microsoft is a critical part of that. We’re on Office 365, we’re on Azure for all our hosting. In the enterprise reporting and big data space, we are Microsoft wall to wall. We’re Intune for our device management, and we use Teams and Power BI.”

To strip even more complexity from the business, Newcrest has transitioned its SAP enterprise resource planning from a private cloud to Azure.

It has also built a sophisticated big data and digital twin platform that brings together information technology data and operational technology data to provide an at-a-glance understanding of what is going on at individual mine sites and across the entire global business.

Data drives success

Access to accurate and timely data is critical to Newcrest’s success, says Martin Gallagher, IT Manager – Digital.

“Significant energy and effort is taken to mine gold in the right place and transport it to where it can then be processed,” he explains. “So having the right data is crucial to helping us mine efficiently.”

Over the past year, Newcrest has worked with Microsoft and Willow to develop a digital twin at its cutting-edge Cadia operation in NSW. This will enable the company to analyse data and visualise what is going on in the business at any moment in time.

“It’s part of cave to coast – that full end-to-end value chain approach,” says Gallagher.

Information is visually represented to look like a mine, rather than being shown in rows and tables of figures. This makes it simpler to interpret.

Close up of man in safety clothing
The platform empowers Newcrest employees such as operators and maintenance engineers to work more collaboratively (Source: Newcrest Mining)

Data is sourced from across the business from Internet of Things devices and a range of operational and business support systems, and then used to build a digital picture of each mine in near real time. Eventually, the platform will bring together data from metallurgy systems, lab systems, the mobile fleet and geotechnical systems, as well as information on down time, water levels and energy use.

The platform provides a helicopter view of the entire operation, as well as more detailed views of the mine layout and equipment. This enables mine controllers, operators and maintenance engineers to work collaboratively to keep the mine running smoothly. End-to-end consistency means “the person who’s working in the open pit or underground is looking at the same data as the CEO”, says Wood.

Newcrest has also developed a scenario planning tool that can be used with the digital twin to test how a planned change might affect metal recovery and costs.

Wood sees this digital solution as a scaffold for emerging data models that will provide predictive and prescriptive insights.

When you think about how big and complex a mine site is, particularly in regard to the processing done on site, how much energy and water it consumes, the ability to use the full power of AI to provide actionable insights across the value chain is going to unlock so much value for us.

This same data-driven approach is being adopted to create Newcrest’s sustainability data model.

Data-driven sustainability

Core to Newcrest’s sustainability strategy are its commitments to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, maintaining its strong employee safety record, optimising its use of water and other resources, and operating ethically and transparently.

Cranes overlooking a mining facility
The same data-driven approach is now being adopted to create Newcrest’s sustainability data model (Source: Newcrest Mining)

“These are absolutely mandatory,” says Wood. He notes that unlike some resources businesses, Newcrest has long-life mines and assets today that will still be operational in 2050. This means it’s important to act now to ensure they remain sustainable in the long term.

For example, at its Cadia mine site Newcrest has utilised near real time dashboards to monitor and control site water usage and the level of diesel emissions being released underground reducing personnel exposure. It has also entered into a renewable power purchase agreement to secure a significant part of future energy requirements at its Cadia mine.

The data reflecting such actions needs to be integrated with Newcrest’s sustainability data model so that performance and improvement can be tracked over time. Digital systems also need to help streamline sustainability reporting and flag any need to correct course.

Microsoft’s Cloud for Sustainability has been designed to record, report and reduce carbon emissions through actionable insights.

Wood says: “We’re working with Microsoft to look at the sustainability cloud and how we can leverage it. We also reached out to some of my mining peers and asked them how they are creating models, because we all have very similar needs. It would be nice if we could do it in a consistent way.”

Working with Microsoft and Versor, and leveraging Azure and Power BI, Newcrest has developed data models across production, safety, cost and people processes, which will inform the sustainability data project.

The first part of the sustainability data project is slated to be completed by the end of June 2022. This will deliver a data model that improves Newcrest’s visibility of data to better enable it to track and improve performance across sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics. It will also reduce the time it takes to produce annual sustainability reports. The company plans to integrate a 3D visualisation tool to provide a more accurate view of sustainability performance across the value chain.

Wood says this data model will add a new dimension to decision-making at Newcrest, thanks to the new information that becomes available.

“Once a pattern’s established, you can use AI to predict what that pattern’s going to be. If the action you take when the pattern emerges is the same, you can use AI to prescribe what it’s going to be, and then get it fully automated,” he explains.

That’s the power of having data that’s managed and used consistently. We are all looking at the same definitions, the same calculations, and then using the power of technology that’s available today – and with AI, it’s transformational.

Man sitting infront of a room filled with computer screens
Newcrest is demonstrating how technology innovation can return significant value for the company (Source: Newcrest Mining)

Wood says Newcrest has placed particular emphasis on ensuring the integrity of the data used in reporting.

“The lineage of the data will be tracked – even when it’s manually entered,” he says, adding that standard measures will be used to ensure transparency and clarity.

“We have turned a lot of the technology innovation we have done into significant value for the company and supported our safety outcomes too.

“Newcrest is in the sweet spot where we are big enough to invest in doing things, but we’re small enough to be able to do things in an agile way,” Wood says, adding that this also helps attract talent to the business.

A sweet spot indeed.