Mining Tech Revolution: The New Valhalla
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a major recession that affected virtually every aspect of the world's major economies. However, it also brought opportunities to implement a variety of technologies in the mining industry. In 2020, numerous efforts to improve digitalization and automation processes were strengthened in Mexico.
For the most part, mining is an activity that is carried out in isolated locations far away from urban centers, where it is difficult to access reliable communication technologies. As a result, certain technologies have become the best bet for investors to protect their companies against future events like COVID-19 while making processes more efficient and maximizing production. In this context, many Mexican mining companies are focused on improvements in telecommunications, the handling of large amounts of data, the creation of multidisciplinary teams, both in the mines and in corporate offices, and workforce training.
“Many mining companies still rely on Excel. This would never be the case in an industry like retail, for example. Major companies like Walmart do not rely on Excel for inventory management. Can you imagine if they did? So why are we still doing this in the mining industry?” asks Antonia Salvas, Vice-President of Operations at Centric Mining Systems. The answer, according to Salvas, lies in the idiosyncrasies of the sector itself, which is traditionally more reluctant to change. “We know that we work in a sector that is more risk-averse,” she says. In addition to this particular situation, which is characteristic of Mexican mining, there are also enormous differences between the various mining projects, which means that adapting to the client’s needs is essential.
In addition to the adaptation and designs of new customized technologies that will mark the year 2021, Industry 4.0, 3D graphics, self-driving vehicles, AI, IoT and the management of huge amounts of data have become the new Valhalla of mining, which seeks to make its processes as profitable as possible in a period of great uncertainty regarding the price of minerals and for the world’s major stock markets. The collection of big data and its subsequent analysis has proven to be very useful for mining’s operational efficiency procedures. Many mining companies with operations in Mexico are already working on improving efficiency thanks to technologies such as Eclipse Mining Technologies’ SourceOne, a data platform that allows mining clients to integrate all their legacy technology sources "efficiently and effectively in order to manage aggregated and standardized data in a central location," said Barry Henderson, Strategy Director, Eclipse Mining Technologies.
Technology has found a window for development in the workforce, and it has been forced to change its protocols as a result of the pandemic. Companies have focused their efforts on health protocols and worker safety, and new technologies are helping in this transformation. Geolocation, the tracking of trucks and personnel in and out of mining facilities and health monitoring, in addition to the social distance practices forced by the circumstances are some of the steps that have been taken by mining companies. In fact, the use of wearables that measure physical exertion, body temperature and blood pressure are already common in many mining operations, while surveillance cameras help to reinforce social distance. “With the growing demand for operational agility and more flexibility at work, cloud-based communication and enhanced collaboration tools provide a means for employees to send near real-time task updates. Another developing trend is rebooting the digital workplace by delivering systems that collect, manage, and prepare data for machine learning and artificial intelligence—all of this to improve and quicken decision-making. A third trend is the increased investment in software and hardware tools that facilitate employee collaboration. A fourth trend is the effort to increase the employee experience by providing collaborative, highly productive work environments that document the work completed. The last trend is that of more focus on cybersecurity technologies, processes, and procedures,” Henderson explains.
In a globalized industry like few others, communications stability has gone from being a trend to a necessity, especially in subway mining, where internet connections play a key role both in the production of the mine itself, as well as in the safety of the equipment working in it. The development of higher bandwidth connections is necessary to continue to keep up with the latest technological developments that mining has experienced in the last decade, as technologies such as Wi-Fi or Wi-Max do not work well in deep mining operations.
The Mexican mining industry seems to have taken an important step in the development and implementation of new technologies. However, these must be accompanied by powerful security systems that fight cyberattacks, considered the Achilles’ heel of this new mining revolution. “The increased use of digital technology across a mining company’s infrastructure and supply chain means that the parties should evaluate the appropriate contractual responsibilities in the event of a cyberattack. The use of sophisticated AI also raises unique product liability issues if the technology contributes to personal injury or property damage, even if the technology is ‘properly’ functioning in accordance with its specifications,” consulting firm Baker McKenzie stated in its report “Mining & Metals Forecast: Industry Trends.”