Distant Phosphate Mine Brought Back Onstream Within an Hour With Ecolab’s Remote Assist Programme
- A mechanical problem at a water treatment facility in a Middle Eastern mine 1,400 km away from the nearest technician called for creative thinking to circumvent travel restrictions caused by COVID-19.
- Rapid issue resolution was achieved by leveraging mixed-reality technology, eclipsing typical pre-pandemic response times.
- The technology is set to shape the future of service and support across a range of industries in a post-COVID world.
Ecolab’s Remote Assist programme has helped overcome the obstacles created by COVID-19 through the leveraging of mixed-reality technology to provide critical, speedy customer support, coming to the aid of a mining company in the Middle East, a customer of Nalco Water, an Ecolab company. With an unknown mechanical issue impacting chemical dosing for process water treatment, the phosphate mine was facing a potentially costly disruption of its activities.
Not too long ago, the mine’s remote location of approximately 1,400 km (approx. 870 miles) away from the nearest technician might have led to operations being curtailed for several days. Challenges created by the pandemic further hindering the technician’s ability to travel could have made the outcome even more bleak. However, by leveraging mixed-reality tools that combine elements of virtual reality and augmented reality to create a blend of the physical and digital world — in this case, a hands-free tablet-class wearable computer — Ecolab’s Mining division was able to come to the rescue in a timeframe that would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago.
Connecting with a senior engineer at the treatment plant, the Nalco Water technician was able to communicate in real time, effectively inspecting the equipment to gain an understanding of the operational challenges on-site. Safely working together in a virtual environment, the two associates were able to quickly diagnose the issue and replace the component that was ultimately behind the problem. Service that would otherwise have required two days of travel was completed in just one hour, saving travel costs, maintaining social distancing and reducing the carbon footprint.
As well as offering mining and mineral-processing programmes that combine chemistry, automation and control technology to help plants optimise production, Nalco Water’s proprietary 3D TRASAR™ smart water treatment system has long enabled the company to offer the benefits of remote monitoring and troubleshooting on over 40,000 units installed worldwide.
“We have greatly optimised productivity for our customers with these innovations, but inevitably, the occasional mechanical issue will call for service and support that is outside of the scope of smart controllers and automation on site,” said Arjan Boogaards, senior vice president and general manager, Global Mining & Mineral Processing, Nalco Water. “That’s where we can apply mixed-reality technology and continue to transform the future of service and support by enabling expedient, accessible issue resolution. We can help connect our customers to a global infrastructure of research, innovation, engineering and digital experts in a faster and more efficient way.”
Ecolab’s Remote Assist programme incorporates mobile applications that can connect to a remote collaborator. Through live video calling, annotations and sharing high-resolution snapshots with the remote collaborator, users can co-operate to troubleshoot problems extremely quickly.
"The pandemic has sped up the process for many companies to adopt digital tools, and they are dramatically improving their operations. The time and money savings are undeniable, so companies that do not make use of these tools could place themselves at a competitive disadvantage. We’re clearly entering a new era."
Senior Vice President & General Manager, Global Mining & Mineral Processing
Leveraging this latest mixed-reality technology enables Ecolab to gain remote access to its customers’ facilities in several beneficial ways. Its sales and technical representatives in the field can wear mixed reality devices for a “digital focus first, real-world focus second” approach to basic digital training in safe environments. Mixed reality also enables them to virtually connect to Ecolab’s scientists, engineers and cross-functional teams for support. This enables them to remotely diagnose and troubleshoot issues around contamination, oversee chemistry usage, guide the installation of new equipment, monitor water and process conditions, and ultimately, implement solutions that maximise our customers’ productivity.
As a result, Ecolab’s response times are becoming even quicker, while gaining access to facilities that have closed or restricted access during the pandemic. Its experts can continue to collaborate to diagnose and troubleshoot customer problems without having to travel to the site, enabling mines and mineral processing plants to meet the dual pressures of a growing demand for raw materials and the need to limit staff to essential personnel so that workers can remain safe and healthy.
“This is most definitely an approach both we and our clients will continue with, even after COVID-19 has become a bad memory,” Boogaards said. “The pandemic has sped up the process for many companies to adopt digital tools, and they are dramatically improving their operations. The time and money savings are undeniable, so companies that do not make use of these tools could place themselves at a competitive disadvantage. We’re clearly entering a new era.”
Other recent successes for Ecolab’s Remote Assist programme include the mixed reality-enabled installation of three PURATE™ chlorine dioxide generators for a leading midstream company and supporting technical trials for a southern utility company that serves one of the largest U.S. states.