Five Ways Technological Developments Will Shape the Future of the Mining Industry
Written by: David MacCallum-Price – Senior Consultant, MRC – MiningSearch
1. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
If Sir Francis Bacon was correct that knowledge is indeed power, then thanks to IIoT technology, in the near future, mining companies will be the equal of the mightiest of superheroes.
The ability to collect vast quantities of data from remote operations in real time through internet-connected sensors and satellites, then acting on this data to improve efficiency on site will ensure a safer more productive environment for miners.
The analysis of data collected via sensors on how long haul-trucks are kept waiting at loading and dumping points could be used to improve the efficiency of haulage operations. Optimizing the number of trucks needed, based on fuel usage, maintenance requirements and haul distance.
Advanced IIoT solutions could eventually form the backbone of a fleet of completely autonomous haul trucks, drills and excavators; reducing fuel and staffing costs and optimizing overall operating efficiency.
2. Artificial Intelligence and Smart Mines
Autonomous machines operating not just to a pre-determined plan, but also capable of processing data and making decisions when sensors placed throughout the value chain detect changes in circumstance, whether physical or market related.
Is the future open-pit mine destined to be a human-free zone? Loss-time injuries? Fatalities? Potentially not issues that need concern a Mine Manager in twenty years’ time?
For many readers, blockchain will be synonymous with Bitcoin and other crypto currencies. However, the underlying technology that powers it; the ability to promote trackability, transparency and security through open peer to peer and incorruptible data sharing could be prove to be a ‘game changer’ for the mining industry.
The industry is always under pressure to improve efficiencies, and a key area where this can be realized is the supply chain. Blockchain and smart contracts could well be crucial components to achieving this.
Self-executing smart contracts would create significant efficiencies for global procurement teams and help ensure regulatory compliance. With increased pressure not only on margins and inflationary costs, but also on corporate social responsibility, blockchain technology is key for the future development of the industry’s supply chain.
Reduce the stripping ratio and amount of waste rock hauled before ore can be mined? What open pit operation wouldn’t be interested in creating steeper pit slope angles?
Detailed analysis of mine slopes would normally mean deploying highly skilled geologists or geotechnical engineers into inherently hazardous environment, perhaps affecting production by closing haul roads. Drones offer the ability to scan areas of a mine site from perspectives that are dangerous or even inaccessible to humans. The information they glean can be instantaneously communicated back to the office for analyses and interpretation.
5. The Skills Gap
In recent years the mining industry has struggled to attract and retain high level technological talent. The main barrier for graduates entering the industry is proprietary outdated technologies that demand time-consuming and expensive training with little or no skill cross over. As a result, the job market stagnates with the previous generation the only people with the requisite knowledge of how specific systems work.
With the operational technology and automation space moving toward the same computing stack, the quicker companies agree on technical standards that are open, based on streamlined software languages, the easier it will be to attract the brightest and the best to the mining sector.
The time to act is now.