Mining companies can benefit significantly from using technology in 2020. Source: Shutterstock

Mining companies can benefit significantly from using technology in 2020. Source: Shutterstock

Mining companies to benefit from investing in digital solutions in 2020

MINING companies have been experimenting with digital solutions such as the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence, drones, and more.

However, most of these technology use cases haven’t moved past the pilot stage. According to IDC, that’s about to change very soon.

In 2020, IDC forecasts that IT-related spending will grow by more than 50 percent, indicating a shift from ‘perceived value’ to ‘actual value’.

To better understand the upcoming technology investment trends in the mining industry, Tech Wire Asia caught up with IDC Energy Insights Senior Research Manager Benjamin Kirkwood and IDC APAC Energy and Worldwide Mining Head Emilie Ditton.

“Whether it be exploration, mining, processing, refining, or distribution, technology within the whole supply chain of the mining sector is aiding in the completion of tasks to ensure they are being completed safely and efficiently,” said Kirkwood.

According to the duo, technology is helping to remove workers from the line of fire and hazardous environments with the use of remotely operated and autonomous equipment while putting safe operating procedures and safety data sheets right at the fingertips of operators and maintenance personnel.

“Additionally, through combinations of applications, mobility, IoT and cloud capabilities, productivity and insight are improved across maintenance, asset operations, and mine operations for example,” explained Ditton.

Efficiency, productivity, and production outcomes ultimately help make better decisions across the operation.

To that end, IDC sees IT-related spends growing within operations where cloud-based data platforms and time-series data and analytics are priority areas.

The analysts believe that most mid- and top-tier mining companies are dedicating resources to the development and implementation of technology.

In fact, some are in the process of developing new mines that fully incorporate the latest in mining design, technology, and methods.

Technology investments include sensors monitoring the rock movements within the mine itself and knowing the location of all personnel and equipment on the mining lease for example, and then incorporating digital twins for production and maintenance benefits.

Obviously, investment priorities are set by the amount of capital the companies can allocate to the technology projects and the technological expertise within the company.

Workers in the mining industry need the right skills

“New investments are often expensive and require skills that companies don’t have […] Skills is a big issue mining companies are facing,” said Kirkwood and Ditton.

“Incorporating new technologies into the industry will require training to ensure the technology is accepted and adopted. This is an ongoing management priority.”

Technology vendors, therefore, often find that they are the initial trainers to ensure that new-age equipment and solutions are being used correctly and effectively. This initial training is used to develop training packages within an organization.

Mining companies also have a long history of providing support to tertiary education institutions to facilitate training programs.

“More recently, a nationally recognized certification in automation has been accredited by Western Australia’s Training Accreditation Council and was developed by the Western Australian resource sector, the government, and the South Metropolitan TAFE,” pointed out Ditton.

“This is one of many ways the industry is addressing the training requirements as it evolves.”

While it’s interesting to note that technology will require workers to be upskilled, experts believe that technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality will be the tools that accelerate learning, especially in such fields.

In the coming months, the mining industry is definitely going to use a lot more technology than ever before. Doing so will not only create new opportunities to reduce costs and boost profits but also help, without a doubt, make operations safer for workers.