Why the Mining Industry Is Betting on These Five Digital Trends

The global mining industry is in a state of paradox. On the one hand, worldwide productivity has fallen some 30-35 percent over the last decade. Commodity prices have tumbled and ore grades have seen slow decline. But while those trends go down, the overall outlook is surprisingly positive, as digital technologies make operations more efficient and profitable.

Digital technologies are no longer viewed as a luxury for mining companies, but as essential tools. Here are five digital trends that are changing the mining industry right now.

Advanced Simulation

Mining companies are making “digital twins” of specific areas within the mine, or even the mine itself. These computerized replicas can be developed for both new assets and processes, or ones that are already operating. With these simulations, companies can test different settings and parameters before anything is done at the actual site. By first trying out fresh approaches on a digital twin, operators avoid wasting time and effort.

Remote Vehicles

Mining companies are on a quest to go either remote operated or completely driverless. From a business perspective, automated vehicles never take breaks or go on vacation. They can also work in areas that aren’t safe for human operators. In the Alberta oil sands, Suncor has already been using massive automated trucks to haul shale oil deposits to processing plants. The Barrick gold mine in Hemlo, Ontario uses completely autonomous trucks underground, as well as remote-operated front end loaders.

Integrated Systems

Mining companies rely on a variety of digital tools to monitor their equipment, track their vehicles, and so on. But no single vendor can provide everything an operator needs, which is why these companies are seeking solutions that will integrate their various technologies. Cloud-based platforms like GE’s Predix can combine all systems into one package. It allows faster and more efficient data-processing, leaves less room for error, and enhances communication between systems.

Real-Time Data

A mine site changes every day, and so operators constantly need new information about what’s happening underground. In the old way of doing things, data was collected by workers on site and relayed to the surface through shift reports written by hand. Clearly, that process is too slow, and human error can slow it down even further. Shift reports are now becoming a thing of the past. By going more digital, mine operators can make better and smarter decisions instantaneously.

Predictive Analytics

As mining operators continue to add sensors to their equipment, they’re generating a lot of data. Using algorithms that draw on multiple data sources, it’s possible to find surprising—and very useful—correlations. For example, one open-pit mine operator was using a GE system on its heavy-haul trucks. A driver received an alert from a sensor on the engine, but he disregarded it, because the maintenance had only been done the week before. When the warning sounded again, however, he decided not to ignore it twice.

GE analysts assessed the data and saw that the exhaust temperature was elevated, while the fuel efficiency had decreased. Using these and other data-based observations, they determined that the air filter was clogged. If that truck had been allowed to continue, it would have led to the premature failure of the engine. Using multiple sensors and predictive analytics, the mining operator saved itself the expense of repairing critical equipment, and skipped out on a whole lot of unnecessary downtime. These are the sort of outcomes that mining companies love, and keep them searching for more digital wins.

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