For thousands of years, the basic function of mining has been the removal of metals and minerals from the ground. Over the last few decades the scale of mine sites, the technology used and the solutions utilized have changed dramatically. This change has contributed to the growth and progression of mining operations; increasing productivity and reducing labour costs. The following are some ways that technology has impacted the global mining industry.
- Increased productivity: Mining companies use new technology to make operations more efficient and improve performance. Autonomous equipment and hyper-connected devices reduce downtime, lower equipment failure and improve efficiency. Wearable technologies (smart glasses, smart helmets, wearable sensors) are employed to assess the health and well-being of workers, provide essential support and assistance whenever it is required and supply real-time information about the state of the mine. Digitization improves safety, saving lives and reducing injuries/downtime.
- Higher throughput: The introduction of analytics systems has resulted in a global optimum rather than a local optimum, increasing yield energy throughput for mining organizations.
- Maintenance optimization: Technology enables mining companies to conduct maintenance as needed instead of on a fixed schedule. Tech is used to inspect for signs of failure, catch the problem and minimize downtime.
- Improved safety: New technology allows companies to reduce health risks and create a safer environment for miners. Smart sensors lower the frequency of health and safety incidents. Technologies (land rovers, drones, etc.) take on dangerous working conditions so that miners don’t have to.
- Fewer operating costs: Automated technology has reduced labour and maintenance costs with continuous operation and less variability.
- Reduced environmental harm: Significant technological developments (ie: battery-driven mining equipment) allow the extraction of materials with less environmental impact.
- New job opportunities: Increased use of technology/automation has created new jobs, particularly for those skilled in software design, GIS mapping, data processing and analysis. The increased scale of operation also creates more jobs.
Recent advances in mining technology:
There is a wide assortment of tech solutions in mining that have contributed to the growth and progression of mining operations.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to machines that can reason, learn, and act intelligently. This technological advancement has minimized costs, reduced environmental impact, enhanced efficiency, boosted production and improved safety and reliability. AI also improves decision-making by quickly providing accurate data-driven insights.
- Automation allows mines to work around the clock, maximizing input use and productivity. Automating machinery prolongs machine life, reduces operational emissions and uses inputs more efficiently. Fewer workers are exposed to minerals and hazardous materials as automation is ideal for use in high-risk environments. Common types of automation include trucks, site monitoring, drilling systems, ventilation systems and long-distance trains.
- Global Positioning Systems (GPSs) are navigation and positioning systems that mining companies use to generate three-dimensional images of their equipment locations on moving map displays. This allows for better navigation, operation and positioning from remote locations.
- Geographic information systems (GISs) are important for discovering geographic relationships on the job site and determining how they impact the environment. These systems create geospatial data that depicts an object’s shape, size, and location, allowing for insights into real-life mine environments and systems. These insights facilitate report generation, mineral exploration, tailing and facility management, geochemical and hydrology information, regulatory compliance and sustainability.
- Workforce tracking: Wearable tech (smart glasses, smart helmets, wearable sensors) enables personnel monitoring in real-time, maximizing worker management to improve safety and minimize accidents. Workers are located instantly in emergencies, improving response time. These devices restrict access to dangerous areas, preventing accidents and minimizing safety hazards.
- Drones and other unmanned aerial systems improve site efficiency and management by providing accurate site condition data. They survey and map areas, measure inventory, create operation records and manage business assets. Drones collect visual data of hazardous areas, reducing the risk of exposure to dangers. They take images of open-pit mines/quarries and use photogrammetry software to generate 3D renderings. This information is used to make topographical maps and digital terrain models for the purpose of monitoring site changes over time. They fly over stockpiles, generating calculations, models and measurements and accurately measuring tailings dams.
- Virtual reality: This mining technology creates an artificial environment using real-life data to immerse miners and prepare them to take on new mining environments.
As the demand for metals and minerals continues, so do advancements in mining technology. To sustain long-term success, mining companies must adopt cutting-edge technology to streamline their processes, improve the safety of workers, minimize their impact on the environment and ensure mutual benefit for the communities where they are located. Mining practices continue to evolve alongside technological advancements, paving the way for a promising future.
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