Mining has seen many challenges over the last 100 years, with the most recent impact being the COVID-19 pandemic - completely transforming the global working culture and business models. The pandemic saw a shift in the rapid adoption of technology faster than first anticipated by many global firms. Whilst technology alone may be at the forefront of many transforming business models, having a technical production process and a technically capable workforce are equally important considerations – and present massive challenges for companies around the world to overcome(1).
“Digitisation - the process of converting information into a digital format. The result is the representation of an object, image, sound, document, or signal by generating a series of numbers that describe a discrete set of points or samples.”
Digitisation across the mining industry offers endless possibilities for increased productivity inclusive of the opportunity to leverage ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) reporting and implementation benefiting planet, people, and profit. Whilst change is always difficult and often requires a holistic shift, the promise of the Mining & Industry 4.0 is welcomed and required for mining across the globe. Automation, smart equipment, data-driven decision-making, and digital technologies will be the catalyst for connected communications and provide easier and more affordable maintenance across the entire supply chain. The three pillars of operations that will have the most benefits are the speed of production, reducing downtime, and employee safety(2). McKinsey’s Mining and Productivity Index has highlighted some key points regarding the benefits of digitisation across the entire chain of mining and resources.
70% operating efficiency due to breakdowns and stalled production, which translates to real potential for increased productivity and throughput
30-50% of mining operations costs spent on maintaining plant, fleet and equipment, so, the magnitude of potential improvements on bottom-line profitability is significant
3-5X cost for urgent repairs and corrective work requests versus planned maintenance, often made evident by tracking the percentage of work orders managed through the planning office.
People, Productivity and Possibilities – Digitalising the Workforce
Lööw et al. has stated that ‘digitisation in the mining industry offers new possibilities for increased productivity and at the same time could create stimulating workplaces in a good work environment3’. Used correctly, digitisation can indeed create attractive jobs in safe control room environments, which provide space for the employee’s full expertise and creativity: the control room receives online processed information from the “rock”, from personnel, and from machinery, and control room equipment makes it possible to control and fine-tune the complete operation, from resource characterization to the final product. Sensors and the extensive use of cameras and image techniques even permit “live performances” in the control room(3).
Unfortunately, the current workforce is aging, and many companies are finding recruiting young and talented people to work within mining challenging(4,5). To address these issues, it is important to analyse the development from a worker's perspective.
What skills are needed in the 4.0 Mining of tomorrow?
What will happen to the current workers?
Risks including privacy, stress, and work-life balance.
Safety vs. constant supervision.
Attractive workplaces need to attract the young people of mining 4.0, a workforce that can leverage and thrive in a future high-tech environment.
What is mining 4.0 and where did the idea stem from?
Shaped by the German Government in 2013, Industrie 4.0 is described as the fourth industrial revolution, consisting of the “Internet of Things, Humans, and Services”, where the entire production process is included in internet-based networks that transform ordinary factories into smart factories. Painting a bright picture of the future industry, the German vision integrates virtual and physical worlds to be linked into a powerful “whole” through the integration of software across the network chain of product development, production, and calculations – described as cyber-physical systems.
“Smart ventilation, smart logistics, smart maintenance, smart machines, and other smart systems continuously exchange information with themselves and with human workers.”
The German strategy highlights the potential for skill expansion and an enriching working life with more challenging work tasks. Companies must work differently and work smarter to capitalize on the full potential of digital technologies, skill expansion, and holistic data strategies that deliver operation-wide benefits. For successful adoption, overcoming internal organizational barriers and cultural challenges to digital adoption is equally essential.
1. Lööw, J., Abrahamsson, L. & Johansson, J. Mining 4.0—the Impact of New Technology from a Work Place Perspective. Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration 36, 701–707 (2019).
2. McKinsey – Mining and Productivity Index, (2019), Found: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/metals-and-mining/our-insights/productivity-across-the-global-mining-sector-is-starting-to-improve
3. Lööw J, Johansson B, Andersson E, Johansson J (2018) Designing ergonomic, safe and attractive mining workplaces. CRC Press, New York
4. Romero D, Stahre J, Wuest T, Noran O, Bernus P, Fast-Berglund Å, Gorecky D (2016) Towards an operator 4.0 typology: a human-centric perspective on the fourth industrial revolution technologies.
5. Oldroy GC (2015) Meeting mineral resources and mine development challenges. Aachen fifth international mining symposia, Mineral Resources, and Mine Development, Aachen