Editorial Feature

Major Mining Technology Innovations in 2023

The goods and services of many industries, such as the energy, automotive, construction, and chemical industries, depend on mining operations' products. The industrial perspective has recently altered significantly, with digital innovation taking center stage and sustainability as the primary target. The mining sector has also transformed, and novel digital and technological innovations are being extensively implemented. An overview of 2023's technological and digital innovations will be presented in this article.

Major Mining Technology Innovations in 2023

Image Credit: Cambrian Imaging/Shutterstock.com

Automation in the Mining Industry: Front Runner in Technological Innovations

The study of trends in the mining sector in the previous years highlights that this conservative sector continues to use traditional but tested and verified technology and tools due to the dangerous nature of work. A major reason, aside from safety, is the financial aspect, as the changes in mining operations lead to drastic alterations on a grand scale involving extensive monetary penalties and strict regulations.

However, this crucial industry has adopted automation while entering the digital domain. Using automated operational systems, autonomous vehicles, and automated sensing mechanisms promotes safe mining practices while proving to be an effective tool in increasing the mining sector's productivity.

Researchers have highlighted the execution of automation in open-pit surface mining operations in an article published in IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine.

Cutting-edge open-pit mines are progressively integrating automation into operations. Advanced sensing technologies and autonomous systems play a crucial role in gathering information in these increasingly automated environments. Automated modeling and tracking processes transform and combine this gathered data into higher-level representations that both humans and machines can utilize. Having an accurate model of the system and tracking its current state is essential for making effective control decisions.

Although autonomous drills, haul trucks, and trains are prominent examples of automation in mining operations, the seamless integration of autonomous and human-operated equipment presents another significant opportunity for enhancing processes.

Autonomous Vehicles: The Automated Mining Era

When it comes to automation, autonomous vehicles (AVs) have the most significant involvement in the mining sector. 

Eliminating human involvement during the operation of mining vehicles greatly improves safety. Autonomous mining trucks can follow predetermined routes using mid-way checkpoints or GPS guidance. They are equipped with Lidars and sensors to identify obstacles and relinquish control when required.

A larger fleet of autonomous trucks enables greater operational autonomy, allowing for uninterrupted operation without the constraints of human fatigue. Predictive maintenance, enabled by industrial computers and sensors, addresses minor machine issues before they escalate, minimizing downtime.

Australia is a prime example of the advantages of using autonomous vehicles and automated systems to increase mining efficiency.

Australia is among the biggest exporters of various rare minerals, and it is achieving this by integrating automated tools and autonomous technology in its mining operations.

Globally, Australian mining companies have the largest fleet of automated mining trucks, exceeding 700.

The Australian government is providing subsidies to companies to incorporate automation in its mining framework, and several collaborations are being made between major players.

Epiroc, a significant mining production company, collaborated with automation specialist ASI Mining and partnered with Roy Hill in 2023 to provide autonomous truck fleets for any mining operation. The project completed its production verification phase, initially converting 10 haul trucks to driverless operation using ASI Mining’s Mobius traffic management and onboard automation systems. After March 2023, the project successfully consisted of 96 autonomous trucks and over 200 ancillary vehicles also part of the fleet.

Automating vehicles for mining operations also presented a huge business opportunity in 2023. SafeAI is a major player in this domain. Its operational method is unique, as it integrates enhanced and efficient sensing systems and guiding mechanisms into the mining vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles are optimized for maximum efficiency and can be used for various operations. This approach makes SafeAI's system accessible to nearly every mining operation, offering a flexible and scalable solution for implementing autonomous capabilities.

The Use of Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Mining is on the Rise

Thanks to the fast-paced advancement of AI, autonomous drones can now be deployed in the mining industry to enhance mine output, accuracy, and safety. Drones can fly to difficult areas or those posing a threat to human safety, taking images from the air to map mine sites accurately.

Using drones for predictive maintenance of mining equipment and vehicles has also made them a valuable addition to technological advancements. This can reduce the damage costs and lead to massive financial gains in the long run.

For these reasons, companies worldwide employ drones and UAVs for mining operations. India-based mining company Squadrone was the first company in India to deploy drones for underground mining operations.

Mining Operations and Robots

In addition to promoting the safety of mining workers, modern autonomous robots have state-of-the-art high-functioning sensors, pressure monitoring systems, and other advanced mechanisms. This makes autonomous robots the number one choice for creating 3D maps of underground mines and assessing the mining conditions to craft a vigilant operational plan.

Robots are primarily utilized for highly dangerous tasks and for analyzing inaccessible areas. Furthermore, specialized robots have been developed to efficiently handle explosive or hazardous materials. Programmable robots have also been utilized to perform routine monotonous tasks promptly.

In 2023, the European Union funded a project to develop highly efficient robots for extracting minerals and metals cost-effectively while minimizing environmental damage.

Robominers developed a robotic prototype capable of operating in harsh conditions and terrains such as underground mines. The research team tasked with designing the robot carefully analyzed the movement of insects and fish to develop the movement strategy for this novel mining robot. The robot can also operate underwater, which is a breakthrough in mining operations.

Another major innovation for mining robots was carried out by ABB Robotics. The development of automated robot charging technology by ABB represents a significant advancement in mining safety.

The modern robot is capable of performing rock blasting operations without the presence of a human. The blasting process is dangerous and requires the presence of a supervisor to operate the blasting equipment. However, this modern robot has ensured that humans can safely avoid the blasting site.

Sustainable and Environmental Friendly Innovation in the Mining Industry

In the current era, industries aim to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable and green operational practices. Renewable energy has played a key role in this regard, and mining companies are leveraging this technology to reduce their carbon footprint. The renewable energy infrastructure presents an opportunity for mining companies to minimize the use of harmful fossil fuel sources.

Several companies worldwide are using renewable energy sources for their operations. A prime example is the Agnew Gold Mine in Western Australia.

The company has completely shifted toward using wind and solar energy to power mining equipment. Its network comprises five wind turbines, a 710-panel solar farm, and 13 MW batteries for continuous operations. This innovative approach reduces the mine's carbon footprint and enhances energy resilience and efficiency, demonstrating the feasibility and benefits of transitioning toward sustainable energy sources in mining operations.

Experts have also paid attention to tailings and their effective management, which has presented a critical challenge to mining experts. In this regard, Anglo American, after years of research, has introduced a comprehensive and innovative plan for effective tailing management at the mining site. It has named this technology Hydraulic Dewatered Stacking (HDS).

This approach incorporates coarse particle recovery (CPR) sand as a filtering agent co-disposed with tailings to enable passive drainage and gravitational dewatering. This new method is completely different from traditional methods of managing tailings.

Conventionally, tailings consisted of a significant amount of entrained water. The new method reduces water waste and enables recycling and reutilization in mining. As a result, there is reduced demand for fresh water, and the stability and safety of tailings storage are improved. In short, this technique proves to be advantageous to the environment and provides significant benefits to the mining company.

Green Cross, an organization from the United Kingdom, has collaborated with Permutable AI to enhance modern technology to ensure a significant reduction in waste and environmental damage. The focus is on utilizing sustainability intelligence and data insights to tackle global carbon emissions and environmental impacts within the mining sector. The companies aim to promote a vision where sustainability and climate positivity drive decision-making and collective action in mining operations.

Data Analytics and AI is Revolutionizing the Mining Industry

The shift to Mining 5.0 emphasizes the integration of digital technologies and human-centric production in the mining sector.

Mining 5.0 industrial trends are discussed in detail in Applied Sciences. Recycling natural and mineral resources is a key aspect of Mining 5.0, known as postmining, which involves repurposing disturbed ecosystems into new resource clusters.

Advanced digital technologies like neural networks and machine learning algorithms are pivotal in postmining development. They aid in predicting equipment failure with an accuracy of 88.7%. Moreover, neural network applications analyze satellite images for optimal nature restoration planning and to assess the transition from fossil fuel to hydropower energy production.

Probabilistic reasoning and big data analytics play vital roles in numerous intelligent systems within mining. One crucial application is dynamic road network generation, where vehicle movements are examined using GPS data from haul trucks to create navigation maps.

Another significant area where data analytics and AI demonstrate their value is in material inference, where statistical or machine learning methods are used to accurately track trucks and ore properties in open-pit mines.

AI is now being implemented at all stages of the mining process. It enables the handling and examining extensive datasets from diverse mining industry outlets. Using machine learning algorithms, AI identifies patterns, trends, and correlations within data to streamline processes, minimize waste, and boost productivity.

Integrating AI-powered monitoring systems also enables real-time detection and response to safety hazards. For example, AI algorithms can automatically analyze sensor data to pinpoint potential safety risks and trigger alerts or safety protocols. This proactive approach aids in accident prevention, enhances worker safety, and bolsters emergency response capabilities. In short, AI has brought about a new era of the mining industry incorporating data analytics, statistical analysis, and sustainable operations.

Technological Advancements in Mineral Exploration and Extraction

Several technological advancements have recently optimized mineral exploration and the extraction phase. Traditional techniques that have been utilized for extended periods have created environmental problems. Recently, major developments in these domains have promoted futuristic and sustainable practices. For example, geophysical technology has shown massive advancements in the past few years, and now, the mining industry consistently relies on this novel technology to provide crucial information for mining operations.

ASEAN Journal for Science and Engineering in Materials states that there has been much higher interest from mining companies to apply geophysical techniques to accelerate the process of mineral exploration. It provides accurate information related to essential aspects, such as the composition and processes occurring below the Earth's surface. The exploration of minerals and carbon-rich compounds has been improved significantly by using this novel advancement. The geophysicists work closely with mining experts and share information on different physical features of subsurfaces. This is needed to help trace possible mineral or hydrocarbon deposits, map their distribution, and assess the size of the ores present below the surface of the Earth.

A particular type of geophysical exploration is the seismic method. When experts use seismic techniques to find minerals, acoustic waves are generated and sent beneath the Earth's surface. The data generated after the reflection of waves from the mineral deposits aids the experts in drawing a visual 3D map of the mine. The most recent advancements include the 3D and 4D novel seismic analysis techniques, which are popular due to their improved accuracy and much higher resolution than traditional methods.

Recent technology has also expedited the mining process beyond the exploration phase. Drilling techniques are widely used in mining to extract precious minerals. In recent advancements, automated drilling rigs (ADRs) have been developed to offer extreme precision.

Automated drilling rigs accurately pinpoint ore deposits with minimal margin for error, optimizing resource extraction. These rigs can navigate intricate geological formations by integrating advanced technologies like GPS and data analytics, increasing yield rates and reducing waste production.

A major mining technology and equipment solutions company, Sandvik, revealed the revolutionary AutoMine concept-based underground mining drill. The fully autonomous, twin-boom development drill rig is equipped to operate without human intervention. This cabinless, battery-electric drill can autonomously plan and execute the entire drilling cycle. With no operator cabin, the AutoMine Concept Underground Drill maximizes onboard storage for water and batteries, eliminating the requirement for supply cables or water hoses during operation. It efficiently utilizes power and electricity as needed, extending the lifespan of onboard supplies.

The mining industry has made various advancements to improve its operational efficiency and worker safety, and incorporating AI and IoT will ensure much faster and safer operations in significantly less time. Further investment in mining operations is needed to make the industry capable of keeping up with the net-zero emission goals.

References and Further Reading

Leung, R. et. al. (2023). Automation and Artificial Intelligence Technology in Surface Mining: A Brief Introduction to Open-Pit Operations in the Pilbara. IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1109/MRA.2023.3328457

Haritha, K. (2023). A review of recent advancements in geophysical technologies and their implications for mineral and hydrocarbon exploration. ASEAN Journal for Science and Engineering in Materials2(2), 95-108. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/370808933

Zhironkin S. et. al. (2023). Review of Transition from Mining 4.0 to Mining 5.0 Innovative Technologies. Applied Sciences. 13(8). 4917. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/app13084917

ABB, (2023). Automated robot charger for remote blasting of rock face. [Online] Available at: https://new.abb.com/mining/mineoptimize/systems-solutions/mining-automation/mining-robots-move-people-away-from-unsafe-areas-and-towards-the-autonomous-mine-vision [Accessed 10 March 2024].

Benavides, M., (2023). Benefits and Possibilities of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in the Mining Industry. [Online] Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/benefits-possibilities-artificial-intelligence-mining-benavides/ [Accessed 10 March 2024].

Bruton, M., (2023). Innovation in Tailings Dewatering. [Online] Available at: https://www.wsp.com/en-gl/insights/innovation-in-tailings-dewatering
[Accessed 12 March 2024].

Dig8italX, (2023). Revolutionizing Mining with Robotics Automation: The Future of Mining Industry. [Online] Available at: https://dig8italx.com/robotics-mining-automation/
[Accessed 13 March 2024].

Dziengel, N., (2023). Top 5 Technology Trends for Safer & Smarter Mining Operations in 2023. [Online] Available at: https://www.inpixon.com/blog/smart-safe-mining-technology-trends [Accessed 06 March 2024].

European Union, (2023). Mining robots designed for selective extraction. [Online] Available at: https://cordis.europa.eu/article/id/446849-mining-robots-designed-for-selective-extraction [Accessed 08 March 2024].

Evans, S., (2023). Mining Robot Designed to Automate Blasting Process. [Online] Available at: https://www.iotworldtoday.com/robotics/mining-robot-designed-to-automate-blasting-process#close-modal [Accessed 10 March 2024].

Keltie, I., (2023). Green Cross United Kingdom and Permutable AI join forces to advance climate positive mining and sustainable practices. [Online] Available at: https://www.globalminingreview.com/environment-sustainability/03072023/green-cross-united-kingdom-and-permutable-ai-join-forces-to-advance-climate-positive-mining-and-sustainable-practices/ [Accessed 13 March 2024].

Liedtke, S., (2023). Sandvik develops vision for mining automation with AutoMine concept underground drill. [Online] Available at: https://www.miningweekly.com/article/sandvik-develops-vision-for-mining-automation-with-automine-concept-underground-drill-2023-02-07 [Accessed 14 March 2024].

Mining Technology, (2023). Sandvik to supply autonomous drilling equipment for Boliden’s Finnish mine. [Online] Available at: https://www.mining-technology.com/news/sandvik-drilling-bolidens-mine/?cf-view [Accessed 14 March 2024].

Epiroc. (2023). Epiroc to support Roy Hill as it enters final stage of project to create world’s largest autonomous mine. [Online] Available at: https://www.epirocgroup.com/en/media/corporate-press-releases/2023/20230112-epiroc-to-support-roy-hill-as-it-enters-final-stage-of-project-to-create-world-s-largest-autonomous-mine [Accessed 13 March 2024].

Mipac, (2023). Top 8 trends impacting Industrial Automation and Control Systems in Mining. [Online] Available at: https://www.mipac.com.au/insights/trends-impacting-industrial-automation-in-mining/ [Accessed 05 March 2024].

Ross, K., (2023). “Autonomous vehicles hold immense potential”: SafeAI on the future of mining. [Online] Available at: https://www.mining-technology.com/features/autonomous_vehicles_safeai/?cf-view [Accessed 04 March 2024].

Smith, A., (2023). Automation in Australia: how the future of mining could change. [Online] Available at: https://www.mining-technology.com/features/how-automation-in-australia-could-be-the-future-of-mining/ [Accessed 05 March 2024].

The Hindu, (2023). Karnataka firm Squadrone flies country’s first autonomous drone in underground mines. [Online] Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/karnataka-firm-squadrone-flies-countrys-first-autonomous-drone-in-underground-mines/article66408676.ece
[Accessed 07 March 2024].

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Ibtisam Abbasi

Written by

Ibtisam Abbasi

Ibtisam graduated from the Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering. During his academic career, he has worked on several research projects and has successfully managed several co-curricular events such as the International World Space Week and the International Conference on Aerospace Engineering. Having won an English prose competition during his undergraduate degree, Ibtisam has always been keenly interested in research, writing, and editing. Soon after his graduation, he joined AzoNetwork as a freelancer to sharpen his skills. Ibtisam loves to travel, especially visiting the countryside. He has always been a sports fan and loves to watch tennis, soccer, and cricket. Born in Pakistan, Ibtisam one day hopes to travel all over the world.

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