Smart mines and the different eras of mining– The mining industry has progressed significantly from the ancient times by the artificial mining stage where people manually carried out mining activities with the help of simple digging and drafting tools to the current dynamites that we envision when we think about mining. This is partly due to the development of science, advancements in technology and awareness of the hazardous nature of the mining sites and ore chemical compositions when freshly excavated.
Most industry followers and insiders are probably well aware of the 4 stages of mining process modernisation and the direction towards automation. The 4 stages include the ancient artificial stage-mining (mentioned above), mechanised mining, automated mining to the absolutely unmanned ‘Smart Mining’.
While the operational pressure, efficiency and production levels have evidently progressed in exponents over the centuries through these 3 stages to our current stage of automation, these improvements are not well maintained as mining operations worldwide have decreased in efficiency by 28% in terms of digging compared to a decade ago. Likewise, the current automation levels are not exactly matching the mining industry’s needs as it is still facing challenges globally to keep up with the rising energy and digging costs as ore grades degrade and become deeper and inaccessible with time.
Mining operations worldwide are reportedly on a steady decline of 3.5% in productivity per year globally over the last decade, since 2004 and factors such as shrinkage of trade-skilled labour for this extremely harsh and dangerous sector is also pushing for better resource management by automation and smart mining.
So What exactly is different with the next stage of this ‘Smart mining’ from the present automated mining stage?
Unlike the advanced mining stage that only implements mechanised support, a smart mine incorporates technological elements and sensors in mining operations. And much like an autonomous digital network of a ‘Smart’ factory, all equipment and machines that are physically present at the mining site are digitised and connected to a single digital system, allowing seamless data integration between all the individual equipment. This system is usually programmed with the help of AI algorithms to self-optimise based on real-time data. Examples of such data include workflow progress, location, mining equipment condition, geological data about the locations and whereabouts in depth of ore. Thus, this enables a smooth workflow and material management, and pushes for automated mineral exploration and mining to procure the in-demand minerals and ores from the earth.
As an industry that endures the greatest repercussions of unexpected and prolonged downtimes that translate to the greatest profit losses and mundane errors that lead to catastrophic safety lapses, these technologies enable mining site managers to keep track of mining asset conditions, supervise workflow efficiently and keep track of mineworkers’ safety in real-time. These managers and business owners are thus guaranteed to make better-informed decisions at any given time with all the data and information available as insights and information required will be integrated into a single dashboard supported on tablets and monitors. While there are many inherent and obvious advantages of moving to a possibly unmanned mining scenario, they incur major benefits from just using the same AI and ML algorithms to enable Predictive Maintenance and Computer Vision.
Benefits of a Smart Mine
1. Eliminate unnecessary maintenance costs
Remote and real-time visibility to equipment conditions with the help of intelligent sensors and detectors enable predictions of impending equipment breakdowns. Mining industry business owners will be able to therefore prioritise maintenance practices accordingly without majorly disrupting the workflow or operations. This AI-powered predictive maintenance strategy incorporated with the help of sensors reduces downtime and unnecessary costs from inefficient repairs and replacements in the mining sites
2. Cutback energy and operational costs
With the help of geological data integration, smart mining utilises AI by algorithms and advanced data analytics to gain insights and visualisations about possible orebodies. This mineral exploration by assessment saves enormous costs in manual search and unproductive mining operations. Likewise, these location-specific mining operations can be performed remotely by the intelligent mining equipment by complete automation. Think of a fleet of mining equipment automatically taking on an unmanned voyage to the exact site of mineral ore abundance and starts mining.
There is increased efficiency from smart mining by fully auto-mechanised processes and all this information and insights being available on a simple dashboard decreases operational pressure and challenges in parallel for business owners. Consequently, this data-driven decision-making steers overall business strategy.
3. Optimised Workplace Safety
Workforce safety is one of the major challenges for the mining industry considering mining sites are situated in the most hard-to-access, dangerous areas and how mining operations take place with the brutest forces. As an effect of digitised equipment and connections to an autonomous network with advanced technologies and sensors, mining site workers and managers will now be able to monitor equipment conditions, detect hazards and safety lapses from the comfort of their seats on a single dashboard and take action accordingly.
This coordination between systems with digital transformation reduces onsite human exposure for the mundane manual inspections and workflow tracking at these inaccessible mining sites. This eliminates safety lapses completely. They are also able to control their corresponding risk indexes as an effect with automation of mining equipment as mining site workers will no longer be required to even be present to operate these fully-automated vehicles or machines.
Smart mining is no longer a distant future, it is the next step for the mining industry.
The future of work has rapidly changed across various industries and businesses with the technological revolution such as Industry 4.0 actively catalysing connections of their physical world to an autonomous digital network with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms.
Our mining industry appears to be a little late to the 4th Industrial Revolution (aka Industry 4.0) and rapid digital transformations to connect the physical world to a digital network. However, we are better familiar with using technology to increase efficiency and productivity as seen since the inception of mining activity and through the radical stages of mining (i.e., from using dynamites to tunnel the surface and reach depths more quickly or even adopting advanced mechanised equipment) to lessen the burdens on production and costs steadily.
Smart mining is not a distant future anymore. Mining industry business owners should follow suit to this change and reap its benefits by using digital transformation. It is the next step for business owners to consider and sharpen their competitive advantage. Here at Groundup.ai we can make this a reality, and proffer your mining site powerful insights. When you ask? Right now whenever you decide to drop us a line.