Automation Gains Ground as an Industry-Defining TrendMon, 03/30/2020 - 14:53
The current health emergency has impacted mines around the world, from Canada’s Newfoundland to South Africa’s Western Cape. Operations have slowed down or even halted in an effort to ensure social distancing and minimize contagion risks. The question naturally arises of whether these mines could have continued operating normally with the help of automation technology.
In fact, there already are examples of practically fully automated mines. Most prominent among them is the Syama underground mine in Mali, designed in partnership with Swedish company Sandvik, which operates with autonomous trucks, loaders and drills. Thanks to the technology it has in place, the mine is able to operate continuously, with all tasks overseen from a remote center. Productivity is kept high, costs low and output consistent. Furthermore, a smaller workforce means a lower chance of operations being curtailed by the possibility of widespread contagion at the moment. In relation to the present health circumstances, this is game-changing, reports Mining Technology.
Of course, not all mining operations can be automated to Syama’s extent. The Malian mine has certain geological and metallurgical conditions that facilitate automation. These conditions are not always present in other projects. That fact is sometimes invoked by miners in order to procrastinate on introducing automation. However, it is not necessary to go all out in order to start enjoying some of the benefits of autonomous technologies.
Roberto Pérez, Head of Solutions at Siemens, commented to Mexico Business News: “A characteristic of digitalization is that solutions can be specifically designed for each client’s needs. Many have already autonomously and independently developed their processes with certain unique characteristics. The main thing is to keep the existing platforms and add integrating software on top to improve performance.” Pérez goes on to say that Mexico’s mining industry is not so much unwilling to implement automation technologies, as it is unaware of its potential benefits. He recommends companies to have a specialized automation department in order to identify potential areas for innovation. “This is the missing link to achieve technological upgrades more quickly,” he says.
The COVID-19 outbreak does not spell the end of the world. But, while the health crisis will eventually subside, it is important to be aware that life will not simply return to the previous status quo. Post-pandemic business-as-usual will likely take on a whole new meaning. Indeed, in medical parlance, the word “crisis” refers to the turning point of a disease, when an important change takes place. In this framework, automation is a tendency that is surely set to intensify in the coming years. The extent to which the Mexican industry responds to this tendency will partially define its competitiveness against rival jurisdictions.