The impact of technological evolution in mining industry

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The gradual implementation of modern digital solutions in mining such as data analytics, cloud computing, automation, the Internet of Things and 5G connectivity, significantly optimize the efficiency, safety and sustainability of mineral deposits exploitation around the world.

At present, the national and international mining industry faces multiple demands and challenges, among which are the increased global demand for raw materials such as copper and lithium, the need to optimize the rate of production in order not to lose competitiveness, the growing drop in laws of numerous strategic deposits, and the increasingly demanding environmental regulations.

All this has led to the urgent need to transform current production processes, with the aim of optimizing their efficiency and sustainability to the maximum. A goal that can only be achieved through the intensive use of technology, including state-of-the-art digital solutions and new automation programs.

The value of Smart Mining 

Due to the impact and complexity of all these challenges and contingencies, the mining industry has been directed to improve its productivity through the use of what we know as Smart Mining, which provides broad and better prospects for consolidating and regain competitiveness in the market.

The concept of Smart Mining basically implies promoting and intensifying the digitization and automation of mining processes, through the use of advanced technological solutions that include cloud computing, modeling software, automated equipment, data analytics, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and 5G connectivity, among other variables.

All these advances help collect, interpret and use strategic information in real time on the operating conditions of human and technical teams, which helps to optimize production as a whole. At the same time, we can minimize downtime, reduce maintenance costs, and relieve pressure on operations, among other benefits.

Global consolidation and expansion

Correctly applied technological advances guarantee security in the collection and handling of data, as well as in the long-term maintenance of business-critical assets, factors that together allow smart mining to gradually gain more acceptance throughout the world, including Chile.

Moreover, it is a progress that advance at a sustained rhythm today, since, according to the latest report by the IMARC Group, called “Smart Mining Market Growth: Global Industry Trends, Participation, Size, Opportunity and Forecast 2021-2026”, the Smart mining market will grow worldwide at a compound annual rate (CAGR) of 19%.

The importance of this conclusion is not only based on its actuality, but also on the fact that it belongs to one of the most important international reports on the mining industry, whose pages analyze the work of the main suppliers in the sector, as well as of the different operations that are carried out today all over the world.

The new smart mining trends

According to the conclusions of the aforementioned report, the development of Smart Mining not only allows increasing production, but also optimizing the safety and sustainability of the respective deposits.

This implies advancing in overcoming challenges such as:

  • Integrate different technological platforms.
  • Achieve greater operational efficiency.
  • Move towards better data analytics applied on every aspect of the mineral exploitation.

For example, we can combine use of sensor networks and data analytics to counteract the impact of certain environmental risk factors, in order to reduce the continuous exposure of workers to elements that are harmful to their health, such as ultraviolet rays, dust, noise and chemical products, among others.

Added to this advantage we can observe the growth of autonomous truck fleets, remote control equipment, prospecting and supervision drones, robotic drills and remote-controlled ventilation systems, among other various solutions that provide safer working conditions, at the same time that improve operational productivity.

Besides, the IMARC Group report also predicts that growing environmental concerns and the implementation of increasingly stringent government regulations on emission control will significantly drive the growth of smart mining in the coming years.

This should be reflected in developments such as:

  • Prevent potential environmental crisis.
  • Support compliance with emission regulations.
  • Detect dangerous gases from stored supplies.
  • Measure more efficiently environmental negative variables such as temperature, light and CO2 concentration, among others.
  • Raise automated alerts in real time on emergency situations that require, for example, stopping operations and evacuating personnel.

Concrete advantages

Talking about Smart Mining also implies moving towards a new dimension of efficiency and safety, which translates itself into some of the following benefits for mining operations:

Improved Productivity: Smart Mining solutions eliminate bottlenecks, streamline operations and enable faster automation systems.

Greater profitability: Effective production hours are increased, thanks to the reduction of downtime. Likewise, the remote operation of equipment increases transparency and offers better descriptive information on the situation, improving the prediction of contingency scenarios.

More sustainable operations: Greater automation, coupled with the use of non-conventional alternative energies, such as wind, solar and geothermal systems, would reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, as well as the carbon footprint of mining operations.

Real-time data analytics: Instant visibility into production, quality, operational cycle times, equipment status, and other variables, as well as large database processing, provides a deeper understanding of resources.

This contributes to optimizing the flow of materials and equipment, anticipating failures and ensuring more efficient monitoring of people, equipment and vehicles, in all the different stages of the production process, including prospecting, surveying, drilling, blasting, excavation, transport and processing of minerals.

All these advantages position smart mining as the best alternative to optimize production processes, save energy and natural resources, protect lives and infrastructure, and guarantee the operational continuity of the entire process, even in climate and energy stress scenarios.

The impact of 5G technology

Despite the great advances already achieved, the collection and analysis of large amounts of data does not, by itself, ensure absolute success. At the same time, we need a better and more complex transmission network in order to ensure the rapid and timely delivery of this information. Only in that way this large amount of data could be incorporated in real time into the different continuous improvement strategies that are implemented in a field.

Objective that can only be achieved through the adoption of state-of-the-art technological systems such as 5G (and later 6G), which have proven useful both to optimize remote control of automated mining equipment, and to speed up the collection and analysis process of data.

According to the study “Digital Society, Expectations & Capacities of 5G Technology and its Arrival in Chile” prepared jointly by the Undersecretary of Telecommunications and the company Deloitte, through this technology we can achieve, among other advantages, improve efficient stock management, promote preventive maintenance of equipment and make remote machinery operation more efficient, thus increasing the safety and productivity of mining companies.

Likewise, enabling 5G connectivity will also promote innovative developments through the interoperability of various platforms, mainly associated with devices that measure efficiency and facilitate both autonomous mobility and the connection and sending of information to the corresponding platforms.

For example, a checklist software could connect, via 5G networks, to all the portable devices of the maintenance and supervision teams in the mining yard, and through them send information in real time about machines that require technical support. This would help make better decisions without the need to stop work, improving time management and increasing the operability and safety of the deposit.

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About the author

Francisco Gonzalez
Francisco Gonzalez

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