The mining sector faces several critical challenges as it evolves toward a more sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective industry that will meet the demands of 21st-century consumers and the aims of a post-carbon economy.
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This article will explore some of the biggest mining technology developments in 2022, largely driven by the utilization of innovative technologies. It will highlight some key trends, challenges, and future outlooks and directions for the mining industry in the 21st century.
Key Challenges Within the Mining Industry
Mining is a key economic activity in almost every country. Vast quantities of critical minerals and metals such as coal, iron, nickel, lead, zinc, anthracite, copper, and numerous aggregates and raw materials used in industries such as construction are extracted annually.
The global mining market reached $1,990.9 billion in 2022. The industry has been impacted in the past few years by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, which has caused issues such as supply chain disruptions and commodity price surges.
Carbon emissions, climate change, pollution, and resource depletion are vital concerns. Mining is responsible for 4-7% of global carbon emissions, and rapid decarbonization is needed. Safety and economic concerns are also driving innovation in the mining sector.
Current Trends in the Mining Industry
To address these environmental and economic challenges, the mining industry has invested heavily in the research and development of innovative technologies and processes.
Renewable energy is a key development that reduces the need for fossil fuel extraction and provides mines with clean, cheap, and emission-free energy, reducing the sector’s carbon footprint. Electric vehicles are rapidly replacing emission-heavy diesel plant equipment.
Collaboration between mining companies, academic institutions, and governments drives innovation in the mining ecosystem. AI, sensors, drone technologies, big data, IoT, digital twins, and augmented and extended reality technologies are increasingly finding critical roles in an ever-changing industry.
New Possibilities Through Digitization in the Mining Sector
Digitization was a key trend in the mining industry in 2022.
Digital technologies now offer mine operators opportunities to reduce equipment and labor costs, minimize set-up time, reduce downtime, and improve worker health and safety.
Companies such as ABB have been leading the way in digitization in the mining industry in 2022 and over recent years. The company has helped develop a high-power rectifier for mining and minerals processing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
ABB has also provided solutions for remote, real-time collaboration and hands-free field asset data management capabilities for a zinc mine in Kazakhstan.
ABB employed Microsoft HoloLens headsets in the commissioning of water-cooling towers.
Improving Safety and Efficiency with Advanced Predictive Maintenance
Another critical trend is predictive maintenance, which offers mine operators safety and efficiency benefits.
ABB now provides a suite of predictive maintenance capabilities for mine companies, and has developed the ABB Grinding Connect smartphone app for safe, remote predictive maintenance of grinding assets.
Predictive maintenance systems use sensors, internet connectivity, data processing, and other associated technologies.
Testing Electric Trolley Trucks
Reducing CO2 emissions is vital to ensure the continued sustainability of the mining industry. Multiple companies are developing autonomous electric equipment to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint and improve conditions in mines.
ABB has partnered with Boliden and Epiroc to test new electric trolley truck systems on a test track in northern Sweden at the Kristineberg mine, an underground copper-zinc mine. The technology is expected to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve safety and working conditions.
Sensor-Based Mining Asset Management Systems
Sensors play a key role in the modern mining industry, with several technologies used in critical applications, such as collision avoidance, maintenance, environmental monitoring, and asset management.
Probe IMT has showcased sensor-based integrated productivity and safety systems in 2022. Real-time, accurate information facilitates improved decision-making for engineers and project managers.
The integrated systems from IMT can monitor air quality and the location of workers to manage lighting systems. They can also enable smart mobility and energy management. The company provides level 9 sensor-based collision avoidance systems for mining companies.
Sensors enable digital transformation in the mining industry, ensuring that clients have the necessary data and tools to ensure that key challenges are addressed in the future.
Digital twins have revolutionized several industries, such as biomedicine, construction, and automobile design. They are also finding increasing applications in underground and deep-sea mining, where dangerous remote environments challenge workers.
Digital twins are a virtual representation of an asset or environment that can be integrated with extended reality and other technologies to provide enhanced maintenance, training, and asset management capabilities.
One 2022 study provided a case study on a stacker machine in a surface mine, which accurately simulates the system’s mechanisms. Consequently, critical scenarios can be simulated using the digital twin.
The Metals Company and Kongsberg Digital also successfully developed digital twins for seafloor mining in late 2021 with powerful 3D visualization capabilities. As the mining industry enters 2023, digital twins will continue to be a key technological innovation in the mining industry.
Autonomous Remote Mine Inspection and Remediation
Mine safety is a key concern in the industry, with technological innovation providing safety improvements compared to previous centuries. However, while they are increasingly rare in the 21st century, mine accidents still occur.
Aside from the loss of life, if a mine collapses, the valuable resources contained within it can be lost, impacting the financial viability of mine projects. Restoring mines and quickly restarting operations is crucial to ensure continued economic output.
Restoring mines after an accident can be costly, time-consuming, and dangerous. However, technology can be used to improve restoration projects, reduce costs, and allow mine operators to start extracting valuable resources in a relatively short period.
Rajant, PBE Group, and Australian Drone and Robot (ADR) have collaborated on a recent project which utilized autonomous remote mine inspection technologies to aid inspection and restoration in a collapsed limestone mine in the Southeastern United States.
One of the key challenges was the lack of internet connectivity, which is necessary for remote autonomous inspection technologies operating deep underground. A system facilitating enhanced communication distances of over 1,800 feet was constructed from the ground up.
ADR provided a fleet of autonomous robots for inspection purposes, equipped with Rajant’s Breadcrumbs® technology. A network with both low latency and high bandwidth capabilities was used in the project. Technologies such as LiDAR provided advanced 3D modeling of mine interiors.
The project’s technological solutions achieved the deepest remote underground mine inspection currently reported at 1.7 km (1.05 miles). By removing human intervention from mine inspections, engineers could safely inspect the collapsed mine remotely.
The inspection was carried out over a week, allowing remediation efforts to begin quickly. Rajant’s Kinetic Mesh network will also support future automated operations in the mine. The innovative solution offered by the project will continue to put safety at the forefront of mining operations.
The Future of Mining Technology
Accelerating technological integration in the mining industry is predicted to improve competitiveness in developed markets compared to undeveloped markets. However, technological integration does present new challenges for the industry, with cybersecurity being a main concern.
In addition, rising resource nationalism and an ever-changing regulatory space will present new challenges for mining companies. Overcoming geopolitical challenges will ensure the future of the mining industry.
Key mining trends in 2022 have included process automation, AI, sustainability, additive manufacturing, automation, big data paradigms, remote technologies, robotics, sensors, cloud computing, virtual modeling, and the Industrial Internet of Things. These advances will continue into 2023.
While many key challenges still exist and increasing integration of new technologies presents further challenges for the industry, significant investment by the mining industry into innovative solutions is helping to overcome them.
Collaboration is key to meeting the challenges of the modern mining industry. Mining companies, academic institutions, equipment manufacturers, companies working in innovative spaces such as extended reality and big data, and multiple vendors must work closely to aid the sector’s continued evolution.
References and Further Reading
Luedtke, M (2022) Top trends in mining for 2022 [online] news.abb.com. Available at: https://new.abb.com/mining/top-trends-in-mining-for-2022
Moore, P (2022) Probe IMT emphasising sensor-based intelligent mining at Electra including Wabtec CAS [online] im-mining.com. Available at: https://im-mining.com/2022/09/07/probe-imt-emphasising-sensor-based-digital-mining-at-electra-including-wabtec-cas/
Elbazi, N et al. (2022) Digital Twin Architecture for Mining Industry: Case Study of a Stacker Machine in an Experimental Open-Pit Mine 4th Global Power, Energy and Communication Conference (GPECOM) pp. 232-237 [online] ieeexplore.ieee.org. Available at: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/9815618/
StartUs Insights (2022) Top 8 Mining Trends & Innovations in 2022 [online] startus-insights.com. Available at: https://www.startus-insights.com/innovators-guide/mining-trends/