Digitalization Leads to the Ideal Mine
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Digitalization Leads to the Ideal Mine

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Fernando Mares By Fernando Mares | Journalist and Industry Analyst - Thu, 02/02/2023 - 12:26

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology in various industries, including mining. Experts in the industry agree the sector could be developed further through digitalization and become more integrated as well as responsible. Digitized operations may increase productivity and foster operational safety. However, there are some challenges to tackle, like technological gaps for some older mines and an extensive adaptation process.

The mining industry is known to be hazardous with accident rates among the highest of all industries. Digitalization and automation are tools that can be used to mitigate these inherent risks. Companies, therefore, need to find solutions that can train mining operators to enhance safety, increase productivity and reduce costs. The easy, efficient answer appears to be digitalization. “The use of digital technologies brings benefits throughout the mine’s lifecycle. For instance, new technologies allow us to design mines digitally from scratch, improve productivity through virtual training and plan supplies more efficiently. It also allows us to kick-start a project quicker and safer,” said Bernardo Marinho, Business Development and Sales Manager, Siemens.

Industry experts agree that the potential for digitized improvement is tangible. Technology can help mining operators to engender fully safe mines without accidents or harmful emissions, use recycled water and prevent discharges, as well as foster a great metallurgical recovery rate and fully optimized productivity. “Our focus is on employees working underground. In Chile, accidents were in the double-digit figures 15 years ago. Now, this number was reduced considerably. However, even having a low 1% accident rate means at least one worker will not go back home and we cannot accept this. For this reason, we focus on virtual learning without risk. Here, we can make mistakes without losing human lives and equipment,” said Jorge Garate, CEO, Minverso. 

“The ideal mine of the future is safe, simple, smart, circular in its functioning and sustainable,” said Arturo Vaca, Energy Director, Peñoles. The key to getting there is digitalization, which is “the biggest lever toward development that the industry has seen in the past 20 years or so,” he added.

One of the main digital trends is remote monitoring, which can help miners make decisions and enable predictive maintenance through AI and automation. Operations can be done remotely to improve safety and cut costs, although cybersecurity would need to be considered, too. In addition, the development of digital twins helps companies to predict output and prevent problems by running a digitized modeled clone of the operation. “Emerson offers algorithms that can learn from past actions and predict when a failure or incident is going to happen through the detection of anomalous behaviors. Our algorithms can be re-trained to adapt to different conditions and positively impact production and energy use. It can also reduce pollution and eliminate risk, among other applications,” said José Aguirre, Latin America Sales Director Software and Services Digital Transformation, Emerson. 

Mining is said to be reluctant to change. It is therefore considered to be hesitant to adopt new technologies. Nonetheless, in the past few years, the sector has broken through this paradigm in the mission to increase productivity. A potential breakthrough can be reached through digital and technological innovations that can transform the industry’s key aspects.

Aguirre concurs, highlighting that companies with digitized operations report competitive advantages compared with their competitors in a highly competitive industry. “The digital revolution in the mining industry is already happening. Whoever is not joining the trend is losing points in the market,” added Argenis Bauza, Head of Digital Lighthouse KPMG in Mexico and Central America, KPMG Mexico. 

The use of data is important for the mining industry. Nevertheless, technology provides large amounts of information, which could make it difficult to identify relevant findings. “The sheer amount of available data sometimes makes decision-making more difficult. Having the context of the information and understanding its correct use is what really adds value to the market. In the end, this makes processes more efficient and safe,” said Mauricio Orea, Heavy Industry Sales Manager, Rockwell Automation.

Experts agreed that there are some barriers when adopting new technologies. Garate identified “neo-phobia” as an issue, a common problem especially apparent in older workers used to work in set ways. Nevertheless, companies risk missing the boat and becoming spectators in the industry if they do not innovate. 

Marinho pointed out that older projects are not as capable of adopting new technologies as new projects because they relied on outdated technology. Studies about the technological maturity of a project before construction could therefore help operators to identify technological gaps and create a proper infrastructure fit for future additions. “It is important to have a change management team in parallel to a technical development team for digital transformation programs. Both will work closely with the implementation team and communicate with stakeholders during the technology adoption stage,” he added. 

For Orea, fostering a culture based on innovation is key, Nevertheless, this does not mean companies need to acquire vast technological infrastructure. “Mining operators must be specialists in mining, not in technological advances. Of course, they must have some knowledge of technology. At Rockwell, we understand this issue and create synergies with clients to educate them on this issue,” Orea highlighted. 

Experts agree that technology is moving at an accelerated pace. New technologies emerge frequently and companies must adapt quickly to these changes. “Almost every month, new technologies are launched, especially in the metaverse. We aim to integrate them into the real world. We must live the industry, not just watch it through a screen,” Garate added. 

Photo by:   MBN

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