How Technology is Transforming the Mining Industry

Technology has had a starring role in the growth stories of various businesses and industries over the last decade. Between the rise and rise of e-commerce and existing ventures adding value by leveraging emerging technologies, it’s safe to say that digitisation is the overarching theme that has defined business in the 21st century. But while it has been at the front and centre of some success stories, technology is making waves behind the scenes in other industries. Mining is one of them.

Emphasising Monitoring Over Maintenance
Resource extraction firms invest big in heavy machinery, a malfunction in any of which not only poses the threat of productivity loss, but also comes with hefty maintenance costs. It’s no surprise, then, that big players like Vedanta Resources are investing in software and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to monitor the health and efficiency of their machinery. These innovations can also alert the team if any parts of the equipment are likely to fail within the next few months, allowing them to be replaced before operations are hampered. [4]
Also gaining popularity is the Digital Twin technology, which deploys sensors to recreate physical assets and the environments within which they function. These systems collect and analyse information about a machine in real-time, allowing business owners to optimise their usage and prevent glitching.

Mitigating Mining’s Impact on Health, Safety & the Environment
The discerning customers of the 21st century, in addition to stricter laws surrounding mining, have made it imperative for companies to reduce their impact on human health and safety, and the environment, if they wish to succeed. And while most firms have worked towards this goal since their inception, technology has made achieving it much easier.
Wearable technology, in particular, has made the mine a safer workplace. Perhaps its most useful application is geo-fencing, which sends mobile alerts to workers every time they get too close to unsafe areas like blast zones and hazardous gas burst zones. RFID-enabled wearables also have the ability to store crucial information about miners’ pre-existing medical conditions and emergency contacts, should the need arise. In high-risk areas, jobs like inspection, and stock and safety monitoring have been outsourced to drones, in order to keep humans out of harm’s way.
Don’t just take our word for this, though. Better safety equipment brought down the number of mining-related injuries in the USA to 6,500 in 2016 from 29,000 in 1991. The death toll related to these activities also saw a marked decline from 34 in 2013 to 8 in 2016. [6]
And that’s not all. Technology is also mitigating the environmental impact of mining activities by monitoring the temperature, emissions, suspended particles and noise levels at the site. Companies like Vedanta Resources are also leveraging technology to monitor the health of their furnaces and boilers, problems with which – if left unchecked – can pose health and safety risks for the entire area surrounding the mine. And if that wasn’t enough, tracking the health of the equipment and systems also helps the company ensure that its activities do not cause pollution. [4]

Overcoming Geography
Mobile, always-connected workforces are the future, and now, the resource exploration and extraction sector can benefit from them, too. Data received from IoT sensors, drones and tracking softwares, combined with the falling prices of connectivity, not only allows for better work-life balance, but also helps companies reap the rewards of a diverse workforce without requiring physical presence. While industries across the board have benefited from this connectivity, it is especially integral to the mining sector, whose operations are often spread out across the globe. [2]

Leveraging Data for Decision-Making
If there’s one invaluable contribution that technology has made to the world of business, it’s the ability to make better decisions. Digitised geological data has alerted organisations to trends and patterns, and provided insight into opportunities for improvement within their own operations & the industry at large. And if that wasn’t enough, data captured by IoT sensors in real-time has also made shorter planning cycles a reality, and eliminated variability and ambiguity from the equation. [5]
While most mining operations have been collecting and analysing data about specific parts of their activities, more and more ventures are now shifting their focus from individual elements of the equation to the big picture. Once companies tap into the potential of integrated data, they will gain a competitive edge in the areas of safety, maintenance, compliance, fleet movement and resource allocation. [5]

Round-the-Clock Operations
Automation is on the rise, and the mining sector is waking up to its potential. While autonomous machinery is becoming increasingly prevalent in mining operations, companies like Rio Tinto have found value in switching to driverless trucks in their iron ore operations. These vehicles use precision GPS to navigate the mines, and prevent accidents by employing radar and laser sensors. Not only has this cut costs by about 15%, but the predictable nature of technology has also led to an increase in productivity. [1][3]
Though robots haven’t taken over just yet, technological innovation is ushering in a whole new era for the mining sector. And as corporates, consumers and lawmakers become increasingly aware of the importance of responsible mining practices, digitisation holds a lot of promise for the future.


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