There are many opportunities to revolutionize the mining industry and enhance the value generated by the mining businesses, this post presents a few promising avenues.
Key Benefits: -> Total operational awareness and control: -> Optimal resource allocation for maximum productivity -> Reduction of variability in decision making and execution -> Automation of mining processes -> Safer working environment
Aiming to increase operational efficiency and cut costs major mining companies are spearheading initiatives to adopt recent technological developments in equipment automation, digital data acquisition using surveillance and measuring sensors integrated through IoT, artificial intelligence aided data analysis and virtual reality. What is attractive about these technologies is that they are readily available from the major IT technology providers. In most cases, the R&D process can be limited to the adaptation of an existing technological solution to a mining environment and industrial scale trials.
The pace of digital transformation of mining industry is promising to be fast. A table below summarizes key digital technologies currently available for implementation at mining operations and provides a projection on how they will evolve over the next ten years.
The World Economic Forum report (https://goo.gl/sgvAfo) estimates that by 2025 the digital technologies can increase the mining businesses revenues by 9%.
Rapid Resource Characterization Using Ground Penetrating Techniques
Key Benefits: -> Streamline exploration cycle - find/expand resourse base in a shorter time period (from years to months) -> Reduce geologiucal and geotechnical uncertainty for optimal mine planning, so that mine infrastructure, resource access and mining method parameters consider geological variability
Mining businesses spend significant time and capital drilling millions of meters per year (10+ in Australia alone) for resource definition and rock mass characterization. Yet, geological and geotechnical uncertainty remains a hindering factor in generating value from the mining projects. To change this paradigm we need to develop capabilities to “see” through rock.
Ground penetrating geophysical imaging techniques have the potential to revolutionize the mining business. They have been applied in the mining industry from the 1970ies and have gradually evolved to become an important supplementary tool. However, these techniques have not yet reached the required level of accuracy for a standalone application. More research is required to improve correlation between the parameters which can be measured using geophysical imaging and the rock mass minerology, fabric, strength, deformability and permeability.
Selective Mining Utilizing In-Situ Recovery
Key Benefits: -> No waste rock -> Minimal mining footprint -> Reduced infrastructure, equipment and personnel requirements
In-situ recovery is an alternative to conventional mining, potentially it can become a mining method of choice for sub-economic and deep hard rock deposits. CSIRO researchers have estimated that for such scenarios in-situ extraction is about half the cost of conventional mining.
Recent developments in geophysical rock mass characterization, hydraulic fracturing and emergence of new (cheaper and faster) drilling techniques may enable wider application of this mining technique. More research is required to fully explore its potential.
Value Driven Decision Making Utilizing Principles of Applied Neuroplasticity
Key Benefits: -> New framework for decision making: -> Focus on finding an optimum solution to a non-negotiable goal -> Emulate execution in a realistic gaming environment to test strategies and learn from failure
As they say, it is hardest to see the ground beneath your feet. What is available to the mining businesses now is the opportunity to generate additional value by tapping on the potential of their decision makers. This can be achieved by changing the decision making framework. Setting ambitious non-negotiable goals and rehearsing strategies to achieve them through an emulation process is potentially a game changer for all aspects of the mining industry.
In the video below the Colorado School of Mines’ Prof. Stephen Enders explains how applied neuroplasticity can impact the mining bottom line. Further explanation is provided in an article by Dr. Saunders. Example of the value enhancement are quite remarkable.
The physical models described by Dr. Enders can be substituted by virtual reality. Can you imagine that in ten years you will be required to spend 10% of your work time playing 3D emulation games with your co-workers and be paid for it?
When it comes to mining innovation, the main emphasis and great expectations are being put on the application of digital technologies. While mining value enhancement potential in the digital space is beyond doubt, it is not the only area where significant value addition can be achieved.
It is hoped that emulation based decision analysis will be extensively tested and utilized and, with support from the mining industry, remote orebody characterization and in-situ recovery techniques will be fully developed.
As demonstrated on selected examples, the field of value creation opportunities in mining is broad. Every component of mining value chain can be improved through technological or execution innovation.