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Big data analytics, IoT among technologies that are rocking the mining world

on July 10, 2014 technology

Three rapidly developing technological fields – big data analytics, connectivity/communications (the so-called ‘Internet of Things’), and mobility systems – have the greatest potential for transforming the mining industry between now and 2025, according to a survey by London-based Mining Journal.

Other game-changing technologies include automation, supply-chain optimization, the so-called ‘digital mine’, ore pre-concentration, deep exploration, machine guidance/control, and non-explosive rock breaking/cutting.

More than 70 representatives of companies in Europe, Australia, Canada, the U.S., Chile and South Africa participated in the survey. Most said they were “highly optimistic” the global mining industry would increase its investments in technology over the period 2015-2025.

The findings are consistent with those of a recent survey of mainly Australian and Asian companies by New York-based Morgan Stanley, which concluded that the broader mining industry will ease up on cost-cutting and focus more on technology-related investments.

“Most of the remaining simple cost-cutting benefits are likely to be captured this year,” states Morgan Stanley in a report. “Longer term, we see a technology-driven evolution in the industry lifting productivity and efficiency. . . . While the miners of the 1990s found efficiency in scaling up mines and equipment size, this time we expect the gains to come from automation and computer-linked systems.”

Such technologies include driverless trucks, tele-remote and autonomous loaders, real-time digital mine planning, global inventory and maintenance stores, as well as GPS-based dispatch systems and connectivity-related communications, to name only a few.

Global accounting firm Deloitte notes that as connectivity to remote sites improves, a “landscape of reporting and analytic solutions is emerging that can enable greater transparency of operational performance in real time for operational staff, site management, and executives.”

Links Chithiray, consulting partner, enterprise information management, for Deloitte, stresses that “operational intelligence is driving fundamental changes in the way information is exploited in mining” and that “despite the tougher market conditions, global mining leaders are making big data investments in operational intelligence, remote operations centres, automation, analytics and mobility.”

Meanwhile, expectations for the Internet of Things (IoT) are huge. (The term refers to the interconnection of various uniquely identifiable embedded computing-like devices with the existing Internet infrastructure.) Indeed, according to The Economist’s science-and-technology blog, Babbage, California-based Cisco Systems “is so enamoured of IoT that it has installed a ‘connections tower’ on its web site.” Babbage cautions, however, that numerous problems related to interoperability, data management, and online security are delaying the impact of IoT and that they “are going to take years to resolve.”

A manager spokesman for Rio Tinto in Australia says the mining industry is moving into a “new age of information” and that communications systems are therefore essential. He notes that real-time visualisation, simulation and planning tools are emerging, along with advanced terrain modelling which could “significantly improve the feedback of actual to planned results as well as provide the basis for an advanced sensory environment for remote operation centres.”

The ability to determine changing mining conditions with minimal human intervention, based on sensor feedback, will affect the way open-pit and underground mines are operated, he said, adding that “the data and information from these devices will allow for unprecedented identification, interpretation and visualisation of rock-mass characteristics and operational context to greatly enhance designing, planning and scheduling activities related to the extraction of ore.

Sources: Mining Journal , Deloitte , Deloitte Australia, The Economist

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