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Technology has been disrupting a wide range of industries for many years now. As the new age of automation is upon us, the so-called industry 4.0, it appears that the mining industry is catching up on the digital front. In this article, we look at how this new digital age will revolutionize the mining industry.
The manifestation of industry 4.0 is set to revolutionize many industries through advanced automation approaches, and the mining industry is no different. Whilst the mining industry is slower than many others to adopt new automation technologies, it is a move that could create huge cost savings and a dramatic increase in mining productivity. As it stands, 69% of mining companies are looking to introduce remote operations of some kind, with 29% considering robotics and 27% looking at using unmanned drones.
What Will A Digital Mine Look Like in the Future?
There will be many different components to a digital mine, from multivariate statistics, sensor networks, big data and real-time monitoring approaches. However, it is safe to say that a large amount of data, and the analysis and prediction of this data, will be key to sending the mining industry into the digital age. At the centre of all these data processes, there will be two main areas of use – integrated operational planning, control and decision support, and integrated enterprise planning and support processes.
There are many ways where the integrated operational planning, control and decision support process can be automated, and this includes the core mining processes. There are many different areas where the core mining processes could be automated, including using autonomous vehicles around a mining site, to using a drone to collect data, inspect stock and monitor the condition and current safety levels of various processes.
Another aspect of the core mining processes is wearable technologies. For those who are not working remotely, and are on site, the can be used as real-time measuring instruments to ensure that the operators are kept safe. The ability for workers to be remote will also increase, as many processes, such as obtaining geological data, will be integrated alongside the operational data into a digital platform, which will not require people to be in the field as much as they are now.
Overall, on the core processes front, regardless of the specific area, sensors will play a massive role. Because there are so many different areas that require regular and real-time monitoring, the combination of sensors and the Internet of Things (IOT) will play a crucial part in automating and optimizing the core mining processes.
On the more back-end side of the industry, will be the integrated enterprise planning and support processes. At the core of the data approaches will be a digital mine nerve centre that will control four main areas of interest – real-time data monitoring, data platforms, future insight and analyzing historical data.
The real-time data monitoring component will use real-time sensor data to drive control in execution, reduce variability and shorten planning cycles. Future insights will work alongside the historical data to plan improvements in the supply chain using old data and new projections and will be able to analyze previous trends to predict future outcomes for the company who uses it. Finally, all of this will be able to come together by well-governed platforms that can support all these processes.
Benefits of The Mining Industry Adopting New Technologies
There are four main ways where adopting new automation technologies will be of benefit to the mining industry. These are optimized processes, increases in safety, the creation of new partnerships and increasing employee value proposition.
On the optimization front, the automation of many processes will lead to lower running costs (including manpower, regulatory and energy), increased efficiency across various processes, increased quality, as well as introducing the ability to operate many of the processes from a remote location. This last point also brings about an increase in safety for many of the people who work in a mine.
Onto safety as a whole, the safety will be enhanced massively within all operations of the mine, this will range from employees wearing sensors, to drones flying into dangerous areas, to autonomous vehicles and to there no longer being a requirement for geologists to be in the field. As a result of these different areas, the mining industry will become a much safer place.
For new partnerships, it will enable the mining industry to work closely with many different technology industries, especially those involved with big data and multivariate statistical approaches. With regards to employee value proposition, the remote nature of these system will now enable the mining industry to source talent without requiring them to relocate, opening the options for mining employers.