Top 8 Technology Innovations For Mining Companies In 2019
Written by Dr Nick Mayhew
Metals & Mining
Recognising the potential of new technology to realign operations, improve safety, reduce costs and increase profits, the mining industry has begun to embrace a growing number of digital solutions.
From data analytics to digital twins, the industry has adopted several tech trends that have significantly improved their operations. This year, 2019, has revealed several more technology innovations that have been endorsed by large scale companies in the upstream and downstream wave of the mining industry.
The Top Eight Technology Innovations:
1. Cloud Base Systems
This year has seen the upstream segment of the mining industry implement a cloud-first strategy. Cloud based platforms allow companies to manage their business applications and share projects across time zones, as projects become increasingly more international. As companies work more and more with analytics and AI, the cloud provides for greater autonomy and creates an infrastructure that is able to manage the large quantities of data being received. This is proving especially beneficial in areas where the communication structure is often less advanced and workers need to safely store data for offline use.
Issues such as data authenticity, security threats and a requirement for better metadata management, have emerged as precludes to an effective digital transformation. Through significant advancements in business analytics and AI systems, an increasingly complex data landscape has evolved. Blockchain’s ability to present data as a secure and verified chain of information has proven beneficial in areas such as logistics, trading, joint ventures, supply chain and production accounting and is aiding in reestablishing the scope of data governance.
3. Internet of Things
Through the implementation of sensors and smart devices linked through networks, companies are now consistently logging, collating and analysing data, in order to improve operational efficiency. This large scale management of data at the downstream segment of the value chain is assisting the mining industry in predicting and managing problems before their occurrence can interrupt or delay an operation.
4. Spatial Data Visualisation
Spatial data, with a focus on 3D modelling and Virtual (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), has evolved, becoming more comprehensive and accessible than before. Through these tools, the industry is gaining valuable insights into important mine systems at decreased costs and an environmental footprint.
3D modelling technology now plays a central role in the construction of a new mine. As part of the exploration work, diagrams are built of underground areas, in particular those often hard to access. This in turn improves the safety of exploration work. Along with VR technology and drones, which both incorporate real life data, they can map uncharted territory and create a virtual environment that provides a clearer impression in order to help miners understand and visualise what a mine’s interior will be like, without the requirement to be in that environment.
5. Artificial Intelligence
Advances in AI have evolved to even learn from previous experiences and as such improve operational efficiency. For example, these smart computer systems have sensors that can be used to identify particular minerals in recovered ore, in order to be extracted. Developments in AI have also been instrumental in the introduction of driverless vehicles. This form of automation has not only improved site access to impenetrable locations but also greatly improved employee safety. According to a report released by Accenture earlier this year, “AI is the number one DARQ technology (Distributed ledger tech, AI, extended reality and quantum computing). Both upstream and downstream executives ranked this technology as the one which would have the greatest impact on their organization over the next three years”.
Drones are emerging as significant players in the mining industry. Employed for mapping and information gathering, their accuracy when collecting data and their potential to cover more land than other high cost means, such as helicopters, is generating reductions in both equipment and labour costs. Alongside site mapping, drones are proving beneficial in surveying high risk areas and ascertaining safety, time lapse photography, infrastructure monitoring and calculating reserved inventory.
7. Environment and Emission Control
As pressure builds on the mining industry to regulate operations and move towards a greener solution, smart technology is being implemented to oversee the environmental impact of a mine as well as the magnitude of damaging emissions. Miners are also implementing predictive technology to carry out environmental impact assessments and using machine learning systems to establish more reliable prognoses for future emissions. Such is the success of the technology that plans for mine rehabilitation projects are being carried out before a mine is even built.
8. Geographic Information Systems
These tools are used to take a deeper look at geographic relationships, in particular in the mining industry. Through GIS, miners can evaluate extensive geospatial data such as an object’s position, form and size. Often in locations where accessibility is critical. GIS helps miners achieve greater understanding and solve real-life issues in the areas of mineral exploration, geochemical and hydrology data, sustainability and regulatory compliance, among others.
While the report by Accenture found that “76% of upstream and 63% of downstream executives agree their employees are more digitally mature than their organisation, resulting in a workforce “waiting” for the organization to catch up”, it also found that 80% of upstream and 90% of downstream executives were exploring new technologies. This positive approach to digital solutions has served to advance business and operation efficiency for these companies. While digital solutions are still relatively new to many companies, it is clear that as the industry adopts more and more of these technologies, companies will feel more confident to invest in their long-term growth and their innovation potential.