Leveraging technology in mining

Ever since the first pioneers panning for gold sought faster, tougher, bigger shovels, mining operators have always sought to improve efficiency and maximize ROI.

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Fast forward to 2019, and technological advancement in the mining sector is more common than ever; adapting to the 4th industrial revolution, as we call it. Instead of bigger being synonymous with better, we are well into the era of pursuing improved efficiency, accuracy, & safety. An era of precision mining. Billion dollar mining operations are finding intelligent ways to become more efficient, embracing modern technology to streamline process and increase profitability.

Tech Buzzword Bingo

A myriad of buzzwords, such as AI, AR, VR, Machine Learning and the IoT, start to infiltrate every discussion about modernization and digital transformation. The thing is, these are not just buzzwords – these are real technologies that work, each already actively being used in the mining business.

These new technologies are disrupting existing business models and have the potential to revolutionize how mining companies and their customers and suppliers do business. The challenge for most mining executives is to define what’s needed for their business, and where they should modernize and embrace new technology

In the future, exploration innovation won’t just be driven by geologists and engineers, but from the extrapolation of Big Data.

Data at your fingertips – whatever the environment

Big Data

In the future, exploration innovation won’t just be driven by geologists and engineers, but from the extrapolation of Big Data. This data will be pulled from a range of sources across biochemistry, bioengineering, and computer science, analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations within the data. Equally, with the huge volumes of data generated by a single mine site, machine learning can optimize production workflows, operation efficiency and even mine safety.

Blockchain

Data integrity is essential in the mining business. Blockchain defines the new standard for the digitized storage and validation of all key data, ensuring stakeholders throughout the mining business are guaranteed data integrity and security.

Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

Both “technologies” are helping mining companies make the discovery of valuable mineral resources a more precise science. It’s widely reported that Goldcorp and IBM Watson are already using AI to review the swathe of geological data available to increase the precision of targeting drill-ready sites in Canada. Overall, this helps Goldcorp reduce cost and maximise profitability.

In the future, exploration innovation won’t just be driven by geologists and engineers, but from the extrapolation of Big Data.

Augmented Reality

AR can be defined as a technology that uses layers of computer generated enhancements on top of existing reality. It allows experts to explore data in true 3D, while also eradicating miscommunication caused by a 2D screen.

Taking complicated geological and mine planning data and putting it into a 3D format makes it easy to interpret for non-technical experts, effectively turning data into useable information.

Virtual Reality

A simple definition of VR is that it is a computer generated simulation. It is artificial and recreates real life situations or environments. A number of companies are using Virtual Reality to execute equipment, staff and safety training, and even to allow remote viewers to take a full virtual tour of a mine site.

Roll the dice – Pick a new technology…?

While these technology platforms are being widely adopted by companies all over the world, there still remains a mystery around which one is most likely to impact your business.

A common mistake is where companies may favour a specific technology and try and quickly introduce it to their business. Many companies hear the buzzwords and feel pressured to quickly integrate an AI or AR based technology solution without considering what they actually need for their business.

This process is flawed. Businesses need to identify the top challenges they face and work with experts to devise specific technological solutions for each problem.

For example, if a known challenge was to increase the efficiency of ore extraction at a specific mine, a number of solutions could present themselves…Maybe invest in more powerful machinery or increase man hours etc. These are very traditional solutions, but technical experts would dig deeper into the challenge to consider how real efficiencies can be attained.

Innovative simulations quickly become viable solutions

In a recent proof of concept project with Goldcorp, the challenge was to evaluate if new technology could improve shovel operator precision for material types moved from the face: ore versus waste. The test was a success. Goldcorp learned a great deal about how this technology could potentially impact a mine’s productivity. Tests of the technology are on-going. It was first showcased at Disrupt Mining in Toronto. This short video explains it further.

So really, the big point is there are a lot of viable solutions out there that can impact the way we work. Some are still at the nascent, experimental stage, but we are seeing serious traction, and increased profitability for a number of companies already.

The key is to make sure that companies go as deep as they can to identify the challenges they foresee, or issues they currently face and engage or hire technical experts to examine if the introduction of a technology-based solution is the most efficient fix.