Advanced technologies have the potential to improve the global mining industry in a number of ways, from drones and advanced modeling techniques creating images of subterranean environments beyond the reach of humans, to automated vehicles avoiding collisions.
Following on from its list of the top ten digital mining influencers, GlobalData has revealed the most talked-about topics in mining, over the first three months of 2019.
Mentioned 1,537 times on social media by GlobalData’s top influencers, 3D modeling technology has been the most talked-about topic in the digital mining sector. Modeling techniques are typically computer programs used to create diagrams of underground areas as part of exploration work ahead of the construction of new mines. Effective use of modeling can expand the area covered by exploration work by capturing images of places that would be difficult to otherwise reach.
Modeling can also improve the safety of exploration work by removing human workers from uncharted and potentially unsafe underground areas. The ability to create detailed images of underground areas was an integral part of Emesent’s Hovermap system, which uses drones to complete modeling and mapping work over a yet larger area.
With 162 mentions, AI covers a wide range of smart computer systems that can learn from previous experiences, and which are often used to improve operational efficiency. Norwegian recycling company Tomra provides smart sorters to the mining industry, which use sensors to detect the presence of particular minerals amongst recovered ore, enabling those minerals to be extracted.
The company has recently deployed a laser-powered option, which uses the scattering effect of lasers to distinguish ore bearing precious quartz from identical-looking ores.
Influencers mentioned automation 133 times since the start of the year, with driverless vehicles becoming increasingly common at mine sites as companies look to improve safety, by removing human drivers from vehicles. BHP has invested significantly in the technology, with its Jimblebar hub in Western Australia exclusively using automated vehicles from November 2017, a move which the company claims has improved operational efficiency by 20%.
GlobalData’s top influencers mentioned blockchain 93 times due to the technology’s use beyond cryptocurrency management, as a securely-verified record of information. A 2018 PwC report used the example of a diamond that can be imprinted with a QR code and tracked from mine to use, to ensure its quality and authenticity. This process can greatly minimise the opportunity for a fraudulent sale.
Blockchain could also play a role in undermining illegal mining or conflict diamonds, as customers are aware of where their diamonds are being mined and so can avoid illegal sources. De Beers and Alrosa have collaborated on a blockchain-based solution to minimise the illegal diamond trade.
With 74 mentions, most prominently by top influencers Kespry and Airobotics, the mining industry is beginning to take advantage of the potential of drones for mapping and information-gathering. Kespry in particular has reported significant improvements in the accuracy of data collected by its drones compared to other means, and similarly impressive reductions in labour costs as individual drones can cover a significant amount of land.
Environment and emission control
Mentioned 70 times by top influencers, environment and emission control refers to smart technologies used to monitor a mine’s environmental impacts, and levels of harmful emissions, respectively.
In 2016, the Chinese Government used machine learning systems from Microsoft and IBM to collect data from 35 air quality monitoring stations in Beijing to analyse historical trends in air pollution, and make faster and more accurate forecasts regarding future emissions, technology which has clear potential in mining.
Predictive technology can also be used to help miners complete environmental impact assessments, and plan for mine rehabilitation projects well ahead of a mine even being built.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things refers to smart devices connected over a network, constantly recording and sharing data, and the concept has been expanded into industrial operations as the “Industrial Internet of Things” (IIOT). Mentioned 60 times since the start of the year, the widespread collection and analysis of data could be integral to improving operational efficiency in the future of the mining industry.
International engineering firm Weir unveiled its Synertrex IIOT platform in August 2018, which collects data from sensors placed on a number of the company’s products. This data is the basis of further analysis on trends in equipment performance, and predictions about future operational performance. This enables companies to foresee and tackle problems before they can impact an operation.
With 43 mentions, cloud storage systems have obvious uses in mining, particularly for international companies, which coordinate operations over a number of countries and continents. In 2014, Anglo American partnered with Box to provide a cloud-based information sharing and collaboration platform for 10,000 of the miner’s employees around the world. The project is still in use today, helping teams around the world to coordinate projects.
The service is particularly useful for teams in areas with less developed communication infrastructure, enabling workers to safety store data for offline usage.
Mentioned 24 times, virtual reality has the potential to be used in mapping alongside drone technology, but has also been used in training and education. In 2019, the University of South Australia launched a virtual reality program with the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, where students were invited to be a “geologist for the day”, and see a number of operations across Australia and interact with a number of projects.
The need to protect data is increasingly important as mining companies incorporate more smart technologies, and with 20 mentions, the topic of cyber-security is the last trend that has dominated the digital mining conversation this year.
A 2016 report from Telstra found that less than a quarter of companies are prepared for the potential cyber threats associated with an increased shift to cloud-based data storage, and mining companies in particular could be vulnerable due to a rise in “bring your own device” culture, where workers’ personal devices, rather than company computers, are connected to networks containing important information.
GlobalData’s influential topics are determined by an algorithm which analyses the tweets and social media posts of 100 identified influencers, to find the most talked-about and engaged with topics on social media.