• Screen capture from interactive 3D simulation of an advanced industrial control room. The image shows multiple high-tech workstations with a curving arch that emerges from the back of the seat and suspends several computer screens in view of the operator. On-screen widgets allow the user of the interactive app to set the time of day in order to accurately observe the incident sunlight in the room.
  • Perspective view of an advanced-technology control center

Sine Nomine Associates was engaged by IBM Corporation to envision a modern work environment for remotely operating heavy mining machinery.

Customer's Challenge

Located in Florida (United States), this large mineral extraction company operates several potash/phosphate mines in their fertilizer manufacturing enterprise. These are open pit mines which require heavy earthmoving equipment, water cannons, and large slurry pumps to move the raw material to processing facilities.

The company had long outgrown their existing command and control room, which was housed in a cramped temporary office structure. Furthermore, the mining site is periodically relocated as new land is acquired and the former location is reclaimed for other uses, so any permanent control facility must be capable of monitoring and controlling the machines from miles away. Corporate leadership decided to build a smaller control monitoring room in a location centrally located near the pits, to quickly dispatch the correct repair teams in case of emergency or machinery malfunction. They needed a command and control facility in the new headquarters which would allow their expert heavy equipment operators to control the heavy machinery remotely, avoiding the hazards of the mining operations.

In addition to functionality, safety and cost effectiveness, the client wanted a design whose aesthetics could showcase to visitors and potential investors the company's commitment to innovation and investment in the future. Based on an ongoing successful relationship with IBM, the mining company engaged the IBM Enterprise Command Center Team to evaluate their existing command center operations facilities and recommend optimization and design choices to build both an optimal physical operations facility and to improve delivery of the support services portfolio.

Sine Nomine's Response

As part of our long-standing business partnership, IBM reached out to Sine Nomine Associates for our specialized skills to meet their customer's requirements. Our tasks were to provide a concept design with 3D art together with detailed written recommendations for a new advanced command and control room situated on the ground floor of their main offices. The solution involved a multi-disciplinary team from Sine Nomine to blend architecture, ergonomics, and engineering with 3D interactive graphics and environment simulation.

As we have in many previous engagements for critical workspace design, Sine Nomine Associates conducted a 6-week review with the company's IT, business, and operations technical leaders, defining criteria and providing a benchmark of current capabilities and a gap analysis which would inform the concept design phase. These findings were delivered alongside a detailed, guided roadmap to overall optimization and improvement of the control facility. The recommendations further included a plan to consolidate the five existing locations into two consolidated operations facilities.

Sine Nomine Associates collaborated with the customer's team to develop a 3D concept utilizing advanced technology workstations for the operators and supervisory staff to run a 24/7 mining operation. Our recommendations included ergonomic "zero G" style workstations with operator controls connected through a tele-robotics system. Featuring 6 monitors each, these specialized workstations allow multiple pieces of heavy equipment to be monitored and controlled from over 30 miles (50 km) away, or from much further if desired. Sine Nomine Associates created a fully interactive, realistic, and immersive first-person preview of the proposed environment, including astronomically accurate simulation of incoming daylight through the large windows the client preferred, so workstations could be situated and oriented to avoid glare.

Our use of leading 3D technology allowed rapid iteration as ideas were conceived, communicated, selected, and refined into the final accepted concept design. Preliminary 3D artwork was created and discussed with the client while our team was still onsite, and the final high-quality visualization was created concurrently with the written report.

Sine Nomine's written report addressed both physical facilities and logical work processes. It included assessment of all existing command center platforms across each of the major critical areas for control center optimization: tools and technologies, metrics and measurements, processes and procedures, knowledge management, skills and resources, organization and governance, and physical command center design. There were detailed recommendations and observations on all these areas to provide both tactical and strategic roadmaps toward a combined world-class facility to carry the operations into the next level of maturity.

Project Outcome

The client enthusiastically accepted our report and the recommended design, and their new control facility is now fully operational and has been featured in publicity releases from the company. The equipment operators appreciate the safe, clean, and comfortable surroundings which allow them to focus their expertise on the work at hand.

Our work allowed the company to optimize their future investment in tools and to make personnel decisions to provide the optimum balance of automation, expertise, and functionality for a 22nd century company.