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Digital Innovation and Safety Technology Transforming the Mining Industry

Both the international and domestic world of mining have come a long way regarding safety, with the number of total deaths dropping to an all time low in 2019. Despite this promising statistic, there is always room for improvement with the mining industry, still having the third highest fatality rate of any industry with an average of 9 workers dying each year.

The Australasian Mining and Safety Journey defines mine safety practice as the process that ‘involves the implementation of recognised hazard controls and/or reduction of risks associated with mining activities to legally, socially, and morally acceptable levels.’ Fortunately, highly accurate modern technologies are becoming more prevalent on mine sites across the world allowing artificial intelligence and biometric algorithms to lead the way in increasing productivity and reducing human error.

What Does Mining Technology Look Like?

Digital innovation and technology combined are two powers that can revolutionise the way mines both deliver productivity gains and increase safety outcomes for their workers. When both technology and innovation are integrated with mindset and management changes, meaningful operational changes funnel through ultimately resulting in a reduction of human error, near misses and potential fatalities. Not only are automated equipment and robotics taking the human element out of the mine sites, they are also reducing the overall cost associated with rostering. McKinsey’s research has found that the overall mining productivity internationally rose about 2.8 percent per year from 2014 to 2016. So, with majority of statistics moving in the right direction, what are the trends pushing these numbers?

The Reduction of Operational Costs

Robotics have revolutionised global production rates – but this technology is not something that has just ‘appeared’ out of nowhere. The difference between human factors and robotics is the ability to operate continuously with no or minimal risk involved – allowing for improvement innovations without the previous time required for the human training element along the supply chain.

A good example of this in open pit mine sites are the continuous autonomous haul trucks, driving themselves between the loading and dumping areas. A recent implementation from pilot deployment to full scale operations are in underground mining are the tele-remote load, haul, and dump (LHD) machines. These companies have seen an increase in productivity and are now looking at expanding fleets – with innovation of these machines set to see a reduction in size allowing the balance between haulage and maintenance cost per ton.

Adoption and Adaptation of Management Systems

Daily workflow insights, continuous refinements and improvements are integral to benefiting the bottom line of any business – especially when you are moving billions of dollars every day. Companies across the entire supply chain must commit to the constant transformation, adoption and nurturing of new technologies as the post-pandemic world moves towards a more digitised organisational structure.

Some examples of digital transformation companies showcasing the power of transformation across the supply chain can be seen below;

  • AVEVA’s Predictive Asset Analytics empowers teams to reduce unscheduled downtime and prevent costly equipment failures.

  • Pulse Mining Systems The five core modules of Pulse ERP combine to deliver a complete end to end business solution for optimising commercial mining operations.

Discovering New Ways to Unlock Enhancement

Managing variability, enhancing productivity with large scale adoption of multiple clusters of technology is increasing across the board. The following technologies are enabling a fundamental shift in the way many sectors work which are ultimately deploying are more centralised, optimised, and mechanised operational structure.

  1. Improvements in statistical techniques and machine learning allow for the transformation of large data sets into quantifiable and tangible outcomes – allowing for prediction and optimisation of future events. For example, geological modelling and predictive maintenance are benefiting from such technological advancements with smart statistical and optimisation algorithms.

  2. Mobile devices can transform the way humans interact with machines with workers relying on their devices for directions and health monitoring. For example, JMS (Journey Management Systems) offer a digitally enabled journey management solution to deliver workforce efficiency, improved productivity, operational growth, and profit. The JMS system has transformed the previous paper based, multi and manual point check ins with management by tracking user journeys all while enabling safety across the large travel exposure time often encountered in the Australian Mining sector.

Affordability and Accessibility

Modern technologies have become increasingly smaller, cheaper, and more accessible – often becoming the point of choice for management because of the ease of accessibility. Even just ten years ago, a lot of technology was out of reach for a lot of companies including the multi-billion-dollar players because of the uncertainty around output and connectivity. Today, churning out large volumes of data for analysis to improve productivity and the bottom line is more affordable and accessible. Computational power has seen smart grids reporting mass amounts of power across vast areas often in very remote locations.

Mitigating risk through insights gained from modern technology has transformed multiple industries. Vital signs can be reported in real time, live location updates are reported up to the second, and predictive models are used to reduce and even eliminate human error. Machine learning and automation of heavy machinery can evaluate the current environment in often dangerous locations without the need for a miner to physically be present. Realtime data can be fed back to operators above ground alerting them to requirements that may be valuable to the team below such as materials, gear, and fuel.

Technology innovation is the future of mining with tech-enabled transformation opening the door to a horizon of positive growth.

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