The mining sector has been notoriously resistant to adapt to various changes and disruptions. But, with several new innovations promising a breakthrough in mining efficiency, an increasing number of experts are recognising the benefits that digital technology can provide.
According to engineering company ABB South Africa’s process industries division manager John Manuell, digitalisation and automation are fast becoming the inevitable solution to update the manufacturing industry, particularly in three specific areas: improving performance and productivity, creating safer mining operations, and managing resources more sustainably.
These transformative solutions will create the mine of the future, one that embraces modernisation and has the ability to stay globally competitive. “They offer real possibilities, which were not available previously, to overcome today’s challenges and ensure a bright future for the mining industry,” says Manuell.
He points out that mining companies sit on loads of good data collected from their equipment and operation, yet they hardly do anything with it. The data is a gold mine of insight that can help mines better manage their operations. The more information they have, the more they can make decisions that are tailored to their mine’s specific needs.
Data analytics can be used in practically every stage of the mining process — from extracting the ore and processing, to separating and concentrating raw materials. A digital strategy will become the basis for applying the data in a way that will improve energy use, productivity, reliability, and safety, and reduce outages, emissions, and costs.
Manuell also believes that the mining sector is ripe for automation. Many South African mines are experimenting with technologies like automated drilling and blasting but they’re yet to tap the full potential of artificial intelligence. When AI-driven automation is implemented in a mining operation effectively, it can reduce operating costs, improve operations, and enhance a safer work environment.
Automation is not about robots replacing humans. It is about everyone achieving more — humans and machines working together to improve processes and results in the mining operation. As Manuell puts it: “it is a connected operation where all assets are linked and smart, decision-makers can see exactly what is happening across their operations on a dashboard, and asset management is proactive.”
There’s no doubt that the mining industry will be radically transformed by the use of digital technologies. However, to realise the promise of digital transformation, mining companies will need to get their network infrastructure up to speed. Being “digital ready” means having access to a secure, fast, and reliable connectivity that enables new ways of working.