The mining industry has come a long way since early advocates dug out shafts by hand in what was a lengthy, inefficient, and highly dangerous process.
As technology advances, miners are now able to extract far more metals and minerals, with greater accuracy, efficiency – and crucially increased safety - than ever before. But in a world where our use of resources continues to increase at the same time as pressure mounts to reduce costs, finding innovative ways to improve mining processes and improve productivity has become an even greater priority for the industry. Here are some of the key trends that are currently shaping the industry for the future.
AI and Machine Learning are set to become the next big step in the digital transformation of mining. Computers are able to assess data from satellite imagery, geophysical maps, previous core drill data, soil samples and surveys far faster and more accurately than humans, giving us the ability to better identify drilling targets, model ore bodies and ultimately to better develop new mining projects to enhance recovery rates and returns.
Like almost every industry, automation has become the latest buzzword in mining. While the debate over autonomous cars takes much of the headlines, many mining companies are already using fully autonomous trucks, improving costs by reducing fuel use and maintenance. Autonomous trains will soon become the norm, alongside automated loaders that can fill ore cars more efficiently, transforming the productivity of the industry in the process.
One result of newly automated processes, and the increased use of Internet of Things technology, is the enormous amounts of data that these throw up. But the data itself is of little value if it is not used strategically and effectively. However, developing systems to do this is a challenge in itself. As Paul Klein of Deloitte puts it in the professional services firm’s annual mining study: “Many mining organizations are not yet using all of the data they are capturing from operational systems or are still struggling to improve reporting from legacy systems. However, some are now realizing that capturing and managing the right data, and using the latest analytic tools, can deliver significant improvements in operational productivity, maintenance of assets, and safety of employees.”
The mine(r) of the future
Just as these changes will result in the transformation of modern mining infrastructure from pit to port, so too will it require a fundamental rethinking of what it means to be a modern miner. As previous manual jobs are eliminated as a result of automation, the employment paths for women and others traditionally underrepresented in the industry will be improved. But mining companies will have to invest significantly in training employees, present and future, to equip them with the digital tools that will be required in the industry of the future if they are to retain and attract new and diverse talent.
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