Soft Skills: Key for Mining’s Technological Future
Mining companies understand that investment in technology will help them reach their sustainability benchmarks while hitting growth and production goals. This makes technology a central element of mining’s future, leading tech developers to seek to improve safety, sustainability and productivity. However, mining companies must adopt swiftly and consider a broad range of soft skills to make this technology a success.
According to a report by PwC, one of the key factors to maximizing returns lies in how fast mining companies adopt new mining techniques and technologies. “In this future, equipment has a shorter useful life as OEMs continue their relentless drive for greater operating efficiency. Leading mines have onsite recycling facilities as machinery is decommissioned and rebuilt in situ using 3D printing technology. Drones are used throughout most mines, even those underground,” reads the report. In addition, the consultancy agency says that mine operators with more agile mine plans and cultures supporting change will be the ones rewarded.
Moreover, PwC reports that mining decisions will increasingly become more sophisticated and driven by big data. This will create more certainty about ore body characteristics. “With technology delivering measurements down to the cubic meter, geological ‘surprises’ become a thing of the past and mine managers can effectively mine to order,” writes PwC.
Industry 4.0, digitalization and automation have helped mining operators to make better-informed decisions, thereby improving efficiency. What is more, it has helped to make operations safer for workers, a key priority of the industry. Currently, the three technology areas that mining companies are investing in the most are data analytics, digital connectivity and integrated automation. The investment in cloud infrastructure is also growing in importance and will remain a relevant issue in the technological future of mining. Mine operators are starting to ask themselves how they can transport the data in a safe way, where it is going to be stored and how it will be analyzed, too. Building the right infrastructure to transport and store data will be essential.
Baldomero Gutiérrez, Corporate IT Manager, Fresnillo noted that the issue is whether technologies developed for the mining industry can compensate for low productivity in operations where technologies are not used. While mining companies adopt technologies to build the mine of the future, the focus on operational excellence is the number one priority on the agenda. Productivity has an acute relevance in the mining industry because companies naturally incur more costs as they dig deeper,” added Gutiérrez.
More importantly, Gutiérrez highlighted that any technology must be examined for its potential value regarding processes and people. Regarding people, companies need to support workers to develop the necessary skills to manage the technologies. Leadership skills to maintain a social license are equally essential. “To be agile, companies need to know what technology to implement and when to use it,” he said, adding that “innovation happens at the speed of trust.”
Furthermore, he explained that in an automated and digitized market, soft skills will become imperative because they will differentiate companies in a highly automated, and therefore standardized, mining world. “The change toward a more automated and digitized market is happening at an accelerating pace. Eighty-two percent of business leaders believe that equipment operated by both humans and robots will be the standard in 5 years. In that scenario, soft skills will be more important than ever because they will differentiate us in an automated world,” he said.
Gutiérrez emphasized companies risk becoming obsolete if they do not innovate. In 2013, Fresnillo embarked on a digital transformation plan and defined two stages: from 2013 to 2018 and from 2018 to 2023, defining the necessary basic capacities that a mining operation needs first.