The mining industry is a notoriously fast-paced, albeit “majestic” industry. It’s a world of blue-collar workers surrounded by natural minerals and found objects that they require to create valuable raw materials.
In the past, mining operations were antiquated and only produced as much material as was required, with the outputs often sitting on shelves or in deep caverns until they were needed.
However, under the banner of Mine 4.0, the sector is now witnessing digitalization spread across everything from carts, drills, and train services to office procedures like supply chain management. Think, the automated mining Minecraft fascinated us with!
This blog will walk you through the various ways that automation in mining industry is cutting costs, improving efficiency, and upskilling personnel! Let’s get digging!
Table of Contents
What Does Autonomous Mining Entail?
Statista estimates that by 2026, the market for automation in the worldwide mining industry will increase from its 2017 market value of $2.24 million to $4 million and if you are an automation company, it will be the right time to reach mining industries globally.
Automation in mining industry might take the shape of autonomous self-driving trucks and machinery or process/software optimization.
Although autonomous machinery, vehicles, and procedures have long been used in the mining industry, they are now more frequently used as technology has evolved. Automation is not exclusive to or limited to the mining industry. It is additionally found in the manufacturing, oil and natural gas, automobile, building, and construction industries, but primarily in mining.
Mining Automation Boosts Productivity
There are numerous chances to implement automation in the mining sector; for instance, you might automate communications, applications, or machinery to make your operations safer, more effective, and more seamless.
Employing mining automation technologies or software robotics to automate manual, repetitive processes that don’t need discretion, including processing payments or issuing invoices, is an excellent place to start.
Natural language processing, data visualization, cognitive abilities, and workflow automation are all implemented via auto-mining. It can manage data across several applications, such as when an invoice is received by email, its contents are extracted, and the data is then entered into an accounting system.
Automation has proved to be a game-changer in many situations because it can expedite the process, cut expenses, and enhance accuracy, uniformity, and efficiency. Additionally, automation can increase security, particularly when it comes to confidential data and commercial services.
Safer Mining with Intelligent Automation
The mining sector poses numerous physical threats to individuals actively engaged in extraction. However, auto mining can lower these risks by using, for example, sensors and computer technologies to make the environment safer.
Such technology enables miners to dig deeper and travel to farther-flung sites to obtain the diminishing minerals required, but it also relieves them from potentially dangerous situations.
Automated control also enables technicians to operate the machinery remotely, removing them from foreseeable dangerous situations and increasing operational efficiency. They can view the systems online from any place in the world.
Autonomous mining equipment can improve the working environment and mining safety for those stationed on the ground.
Without any requirement for manual interaction, electric and automated trucks, drill rigs, and scoops can extract and carry ore from the mines to the ground. In contrast, transportation trucks can continue the process of crushing, milling, and processing.
AI transport systems enable automated trucks to be driven independently or by a remote administrator using GPS devices, remote access, and sensors. Computer systems offer information on the speed and location of the vehicle to avoid accidents.
Additionally, it is possible to lessen the production loss caused by breakdowns, improving efficiency, profitability, and safety in the mining industry.
Three Mechanisms for Accelerating Technological Transformation
It takes more than just a tech-centric approach to effect lasting change. Companies must embrace a comprehensive approach to modernization.
There is no technical panacea that mining businesses may purchase to accomplish their objectives. Alternatively, three interrelated drivers propel a large-scale or more modest operating system revolution facilitated by technology. These are listed below:
1. Making Technology an Ally
The following are just a few of the many advancements mining firms have made thanks to modern technology:
a. Enhancing Recovery and Productivity
Advanced analytics tools integrate all the information in the concentration atmosphere and utilize it to enhance procedures at some autonomous mining units. This method produces a global optimum rather than the local optimal solution through autonomous process control. This could increase yield energy efficiency.
Sensors gather waste data in real time. Using this, a machine learning (ML) framework determines the best metrics for recovering various resources. This improves performance beyond what the workers could do before. This has decreased the ecological consequences of the tailings and conserved millions of dollars’ worth of chemicals.
- A metal mine increased chemical extraction from the recovery procedure by 10 to 15% using Commercial Internet of Things (IoT) instruments, a centralized data repository, and cutting-edge algorithms.
b. Enhancing Upkeep
Automation mining enables mines to perform maintenance as needed rather than according to a schedule.
Technology can also be advantageous for maintenance personnel. Pump operators now have a mobile device or tablet that tracks their whereabouts and the resources they are dealing with. The software can display a service request, the maintenance record of a specific asset, and the procedures to finish the job.
- One business implemented predictive upkeep in substantial heat exchanging systems using sensors and ML. Since the model predicted the exchangers’ failure, maintenance was only required every 70 to 140 to 200 days instead of every 70 to 200 days. The cost savings were significant because there were numerous heat exchangers.
c. Lowering Operating Expenses
Robotics use will probably lead to some of the most significant developments in mining. In addition to lowering maintenance costs and staffing requirements, autonomous machinery works seamlessly, with less fluctuation, and almost always within the safety margins advised by the manufacturer.
Furthermore, compared to human-led operations, automation mining may be more open to continual improvement methods. This significantly affects a range of functions, including road maintenance and how to reverse in shovel locations.
Automated Load-Haul-Dump (LHD) equipment is becoming more popular in underground mines. Larger mines have transitioned from LHD adoption as their new benchmark to pilot-scale implementation.
- Trucks with automated haulage systems have increased productivity by 20% for one mining business. In light of their productivity gains, another early adopter lately opted to increase the number of automated vehicles in its fleet.
d. Increasing Output and Overall Equipment Efficiency
Given the difficulties in determining the location of personnel and assets, as well as the amount of advancement, coordinating actions in underground mines has been a concern.
Combining commercially available technologies with proprietary ones to develop a system that boosts openness, security, performance monitoring, and general equipment efficacy has become more feasible.
- The construction of underground networks allows mine managers to communicate with work teams using 5G or Wi-Fi technologies.
- This invention can have a significant impact if combined with the other two primary drivers of technology-enabled modernization.
2. Modify the Management Structures
Companies must commit to revamping their management structures to foster creativity, embracing transformation, harnessing technology, and improving productivity in mining.
- To integrate the new tools and information into their daily operations, a mining business that is employing advanced analytics to boost production and throughput must also change how metallurgists, plant workers, and maintainers collaborate.
- Otherwise, the plant’s real functioning remains unchanged, making it impossible to obtain the bottom-line advantage.
By adopting technology, people who previously had little need to collaborate are now incredibly dependent on one another and require organizational structures that support this.
3. Restructure the Capabilities and Culture
Technology-enabled modernization necessitates a shift in mentality, behavior, and capabilities, as well as a break from ingrained patterns. Utilizing technology also requires educating current employees and acquiring new personnel with cutting-edge competencies to fill new positions.
Data scientists are required to construct advanced analytics models and discover improvement mechanisms. Organizations can also send qualified interpreters to explain complex systems to other mine workers.
Most of the time, businesses will be able to use already-existing talent to hire translators, often turning to younger digitally-skilled natives or other people with a penchant for technology.
- An internal metallurgist who was knowledgeable about extremely pertinent technical facets of ML frameworks was discovered by a base-metals company in the US. The corporation trained her to be a controller of controllers using ML. She created a top-notch interface for a manufacturing facility because of her passion.
For these new categories of workers to succeed and reach their full potential, the mining environment must evolve, and human resource divisions must play a crucial role in this transformation.
Automation in Mining: What the Future Holds
The mining sector is continuously modernizing its digital operations, and developments in autonomous mining equipment have resulted in better process automation and a rise in the number of autonomous devices inside the mining sites.
Although automation presents the chance to improve workflows and increase efficiency, there are still obstacles to be addressed because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to adoption. Rather, it will vary according to the specific businesses and mines involved.
It should be simple to eradicate these obstacles because doing so increases safety while improving end-to-end procedures in a measured and standardized way.
Mining has historically been an analog industry. Unsurprisingly, a pick and hammer serve as the industry’s global symbol. Nevertheless, despite the industry’s dated reputation, some prominent mining corporations are adopting a progressive approach and demonstrating how automation and digitalization can produce significantly improved operational results.
Today, the mining industry is making significant strides in automation, from autonomous vehicles and remote operations to advanced sensors and artificial intelligence.
Overall, automation in mining has been shown to increase operational effectiveness and aid in managing market volatility, as it does in any industrial context. Investors often view this resiliency as a sign of a stable sector that is more attractive to invest in.