Why the future of quarry management is now

By |  November 24, 2020
Riprap and boulders represent about 15 percent of Albert Frei & Sons’ revenue, yet only 2 percent of its volume, President Albert Frei Jr. says. Photo by Kevin Yanik

The ability to monitor operations bridges the gap between intuition and hard data. Photo: P&Q Staff

From autonomous drilling and conveyor belt sensors to truck fleet management and aerial volume measurement platforms, pits and quarries are creating virtual stockpiles of data.

While these data-producing systems help to drive productivity for boots on the ground, they are typically not connected in a way that can help support operational objectives. Nor are they able to resolve challenges such as rising production demands, tighter specifications, employee recruiting and retention – plus safety and regulatory compliance.

One way to address these concerns is by improving process management. At its most basic, quarrying is a three-step manufacturing operation: extraction, material processing and loading. And much like any manufacturing activity, Lean and Six Sigma techniques enable the identification and removal of waste and minimize impact variability. As many operations have learned, you can’t improve what you can’t measure.

Still, despite the ongoing investment in systems such as belt scale sensors and fleet management, managers do not have an easy way to compile data about specific operational activities to derive actionable insights.

The connectivity conundrum

Tracking material production, equipment productivity and personnel performance is considerably easier in today’s environment with so many sensors. But gaining valuable intel from all of that data is trickier – and something the entire construction industry struggles with.

In the 2019 report “Big Data = Big Questions for the Engineering and Construction Industry,” FMI, a consulting firm tracking construction trends, found that 95.5 percent of all data captured goes unused. Additionally, an estimated 13 percent of a project team’s working hours are spent looking for project data and information.

The problem is a lack of connectivity between solutions – a challenge aggregate producers will increasingly face. Much like project managers rely on an overarching solution to bring together progress data from a jobsite, aggregate producers should begin to think about quarry workflow-relevant reporting tools and dashboards.

These reporting tools draw data from sensors and systems from scales on loaders, excavators, haul trucks and conveyor belt scales into a centralized location, where it is organized into valuable intel. By measuring data from load and haul, processing, loadout processes and stockpiles, producers can quickly see what is produced and isolate any opportunities for improvement.

Pulling belt scale data, including product type, production rates and locations into a single source can help producers show target versus actual productivity and identify downtime delays.

Additionally, reports on blast yield tonnage can verify that blasting patterns and hauling cycles are delivering  their expected yield. These reports can be pulled together with data from belt scales and machine-monitoring systems.

Similarly, producers can utilize sensor-derived data to decide if they need another pit loader or a different class of machine to keep up with production while minimizing capital investment.

Operational realities

The ability to monitor operations bridges the gap between intuition and hard data. A reporting tool confirms and reinforces an operator’s expertise, providing information in a manner that is accurate, timely and easy to visualize.

When the tool is connected to scales across the operation, it can provide valuable insights from extraction to loadout. It’s a single source of truth. With such a system, producers can quickly see how improving a certain aspect of operations – such as adding new equipment – improves production or the bottom line.

A quarry production-monitoring system enables information in real time to highlight an opportunity that could minimize lost production time or reduced performance. It’s an opportunity to look through a different set of lenses – in essence, a window into operations at any given moment, along with the historical data to drive actionable decisions. And it is information that is available anytime, anywhere from a connected device.

Many sites already have the hardware infrastructure in place – it just needs to be connected to an intelligent reporting system. Do more than collect data – drive decisions through a connected workflow.

Kevin Vonesh oversees worldwide strategic accounts for Trimble Aggregates. He can be reached at kevin_vonesh@trimble.com.

Comments are closed