Digitization is a hot topic which many mining companies are desperate to get right as they attempt to improve production processes and future-proof their operations. Ahead of Mines and Technology Americas (Toronto, Oct 15-17) we invited some of the biggest names in mining tech to answer the burning questions be had on the future of mining and explain how they can help you and your business.
Read on to see how Dassault Systèmes, Newtrax and Spectrics plc (ESG Solutions) are transforming the future of mining.
What’s the biggest challenges for mining companies when it comes to digitization?
When we pitched this question to Dassault Systèmes, their response was: “Are you thinking digitisation or are you thinking digital transformation?” is perhaps the greatest challenge that we see in the mining industry, which is seeking to come to terms with what adoption of new technologies and ways of working. Many organizations are looking to Industry 4.0, but as it involves digitizing what happened in the past, it itself is being superseded. True digital transformation is beyond that and lies in connecting the real and virtual worlds to unlock innovative ways of thinking, making and doing.
More specifically Newtrax, who focus solely on underground hard rock mines, have discovered that digitisation in underground (UG) mines lags behind open pit mines because of multiple factors including but not limited to: GPS and solar power not working underground, radio frequency propagation and poorly instrumented production equipment. They explained that the underground portion of the industry is now ripe for a change. They’re seeing increased demand from top executives of mining companies wanting to monitor activities at remote operations in real-time, and from underground workers frustrated by the perceived digital divide between their smartphone-centric personal lives and their technology-lacking workplace.
ESG Solutions, highlighted that in the current paradigm, on one hand, end users are often not convinced in the value the technology will deliver to them, especially in light of the effort on their part to adopt it and the related opportunity cost. For example, time spent on data collection, or on preventative maintenance, can be perceived to be taking away from time in production – impacting daily quotas. On the other hand, management look for low risk ROIs on investments, including technology – recent experience has promoted some scepticism. These challenges apply generally, but especially to optimization through data analytics.
What will be the biggest change in mining practices over the next 10-20 years?
Newtrax were quick of the mark to state AI-based optimization of mining processes, teleremote and autonomous operations and electrification of fleets are to be the biggest changes over the next decade. Whereas Dassault Systèmes thinks the mining industry will begin to reinvent itself as it begins to think more transversally across industries and the role its products play as an enabler to new emerging industries such as lithium batteries.
However, ESG Solutions considered the workforce when answering, stating: Fundamentally, as technology permeates its way through mining companies – from top management to the front line – it will usher in an unprecedented level of leverage for our employee bases. Production tonnage through the mine and mill, per employee, will be vastly greater than today – enabled through fully autonomous, optimized and continuous operations that are going much deeper and getting much more ultimate recovery. What does this mean? Mining companies will be able to redeploy employees across much larger portfolios – in other words, achieving true scalability of their teams and resources.
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What is the single biggest technological advancement that you can bring to the mining industry?
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are becoming increasingly pervasive in the industrial world. Breakthroughs in AI have historically been constrained by the absence of high-quality training datasets, not by algorithmic advances. Rapid progress in machine vision, language translation, and games only occurred after relevant and specialized big data became available.
With all the data it has collected throughout the years about people, machines, and the environment underground, Newtrax will be able to provide the relevant and specialized big data that underground mines will need to train the algorithms that will optimize the production of these mines.
Spectris plc (ESG Solutions), with a heritage in engineering, customer centricity, and innovation, identified the importance of this particular competency mix earlier than most, and this manifests itself in their unique philosophy towards data analytics for optimization. At the analytical workflow level, they believe in starting with a core of engineering (for example, physics of failure, or reliability methods), and layering modern machine learning techniques on top in order to automate and improve. This approach can apply to most analytical applications, delivering more accurate predictions faster.
On the other hand, Dassault Systèmes eliminates the gap between the real and virtual worlds by creating a complete model for planning and execution that is driven by continuous learning and collaboration. This new type of customer experience is enabling what we refer to as an “Industry Renaissance.” In this, the distance between the real and virtual world is eliminated, allowing the move between the two to go faster. Through this, the power to translate ideas to reality moves more quickly in the pursuit of new ways of working and creating value.