As one of the oldest and most labour-intensive industries, it’s not really surprising that digital innovations are not as quickly adopted in the mining sector. In fact, according to the Boston Consulting Group’s international Digital Acceleration Index (DAI), the metals and mining industry is up to 40% less digitally mature than its most commensurate industries like chemicals or automotive manufacturing.
However, that doesn’t mean that there is no digital transformation happening at all. Australia, for instance, is widely considered to have the most technologically advanced mining industry in the world. According to global news outlet Reuters, Australia’s Big Three iron ore miners have even set up “digital twins” that allow them to manage parts of their operations from hundreds of kilometres away. This is an especially useful and timely capability in the middle of COVID-19.
Aside from this, another technology that the mining industry is looking to optimise in the near future is artificial intelligence (AI). Poised to be the next great disruptor in mining, AI’s capabilities are vast and scalable. Here are a few benefits of AI integration that will formally bring mining into the 4th industrial revolution:
More accurate decision-making
Data sciences have been changing industries by enabling their users to extrapolate relevant trends, updates, and concerns from a dense and endless stream of information. Before AI, this would have once taken hours of manual data collation, analysis, translation, and then dissemination. Now, it can be done in a fraction of the original time.
In a recent Mining Technology article on AI in mining, it’s explained that AI can use data analysis to ensure that explosives are used more efficiently, there’s less exposure to harmful waste, and new mineral deposits are identified more accurately.
Having this capability drastically improves the decision-making process by providing scientifically backed data and more probable outcomes.
Better machine maintenance
Having faulty machinery is not only costly, it’s dangerous. To illustrate, a previous Canaria post noted that without AI, mines only operate at 70% efficiency due to breakdowns. And up to 50% of mining operational costs are spent on maintaining equipment following requests for urgent repairs.
Conversely, by using AI, everything from fleets to drills can effectively be made “smart” by connecting them to the Internet of Things (IoT). This allows pertinent devices to share updates with each other and human users in real-time. By doing so, mines can constantly track the performance and soundness of vital machinery without having to deploy human mechanics or halt operations. While this can initially mean investing in technologies like smart sensors, in the long run, this technology can reduce machine issues and any subsequent issues like injury or reduced output.
Enhanced consumer engagement practices
More than ever before, there is a need for all companies to hone in on consumer engagement as this has been proven to increase brand revenue, repute, and customer loyalty. Recent Gartner surveys even show that 75% of organisations are investing more money in technologies that can improve the customer experience. In this same survey, one of the top assets that companies said they’re putting more money into is digital marketing.
Two of the most effective and easily implemented examples of this are search engine optimisation (SEO) and virtual assistants. Since a 2020 Smart Insights survey revealed that 81% of consumers first searched for a product or service online, having a solid SEO strategy can improve your reach. According to international digital marketing specialists Ayima, implementing SEO entails more than just improving search rankings. Rather, it’s more about increasing brand awareness, engagement, and traffic. When AI is combined with SEO, companies can help determine relevant topics and optimum publishing times. Chatbots, meanwhile, can drastically improve a company’s responsiveness. By using AI, chatbots can intelligently converse, answer, and resolve customer queries with accurate and relevant solutions. This service alone immediately opens up new revenue streams as global markets can now easily engage with a company any time and anywhere.
Increase safety and sustainability
For miners to reduce their environmental impact and improve worker safety, there is a definite need to adopt AI as this can minimise energy costs, lessen the use of natural resources, and eliminate the need for human intervention in dangerous locations. Some prime examples of this include automated machinery, which can take over manual labour in remote and extreme locations. At the same time, a LinkedIn report on mining digitalisation explains that rather than using diesel fuelled-heavy machinery to monitor site activity, drones, smart sensors, and wearable technologies can do this using much less energy and time. The use of local water in mines has long been a hot topic, with AI, so operators can recirculate their process water thereby reducing intake and discharge volumes.
WeForum states that digital transformation in mining can result in a reduction of 610 million tonnes of Co2 emissions and a 20% decrease in workforce injuries.
Although widespread digital adoption in mining has only just begun, its benefits are undeniable. The sooner mining embraces AI and its kin, the sooner it can cement its place in a tech-empowered future.
Exclusively written for canariatechnologies.com By Harper Mullins