5 disruptions to the future of mining

We often like to talk about the future, but it’s easy to get stuck in the past. What people picture when they think mining isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago.

It’s hard not to picture this.


And this.

Mining is one of the major industries affected by the 4th Industrial revolution, swapping pickaxes and shovels with high-tech computers and autonomous vehicles. Now, we’re discovering how to use these technologies in innovative ways to increase safety, productivity, and operate more sustainably.

What does the future of mining really look like? Some think that the future of mining is no mining at all. For example, Apple is trying to work sustainably from 100% recycled material.

How realistic is this for our society?

Mining experts at TENWEST had a lot to say about how mining will be disrupted over the next 20 years.

The TENWEST Impact Festival is a 10-day event that takes place in Tucson, Arizona. It features 100+ events focused on solutions for creating social, environmental and economic impact.

Hexagon sponsored several panels discussing hot topics in mining. The industry has a huge economic footprint in Arizona and copper is one of the Five C’s, the pillars of Arizona’s economy.  This multi-billion-dollar industry contributes greatly to the development of the city, the #1 emerging tech market in the U.S.

During the “Mining Disrupted: The Next 20 Years” panel, Dani Payne, AHS application consultant for SMS Equipment, Mark Baker, owner of Checkmark Consulting and Johnny Lyons-Baral, product manager at Hexagon, took the time to share their expertise and discuss their views on the future of mining.

The panelists agreed that mining will not go away. As the population grows and demands for resources increase, it’s not a question of IF mining will be around, but HOW it will change to meet increased demand.

Mining might look more like this.

Here are some of the top 5 disruptions shaping the future of mining today:

5. Automation

The International Society of Automation defines automation as “the creation and application of technology to monitor and control the production and delivery of products and services.”

The emergence of automation in mining isn’t new, it’s already happening. Mark, who worked in the semiconductor industry before switching to mining, noted that this is one of the most progressive industries in exploring new technologies.

Mining was one of the first industries to use autonomous solutions, starting with autonomous haul trucks.

Dani: “Mining companies are looking at autonomous [solutions], that’s the reality of what mining is doing”

4. Digital Reality

Participants in the audience added that many of the recent innovation awards in mining aren’t just for operations, but for processes as well. Mines are using data to run scenarios and improve decision making.

South 32 has a Zinc underground mine south of Tucson that has been progressive about doing things differently, thinking towards the future. They explored the concept of the “Digital Twin,” developed by Dr. Michael Grieves, an expert in product lifecycle management and information systems.

The idea is to eventually build a complete, dynamic twin of the mine stored digitally. This copy mimics exactly what’s going on in the mine. Events that happen in the real world happen in the digital twin. Conversely, you could make alterations in the digital environment, and see these changes occur in the real one.

The benefit? To remove people from the hazardous conditions of the mine, making operations safer and more productive.

Hexagon’s reality capture technologies allow a “digital walkthrough” of the mine through scanned point cloud data.

While all the panelists agreed mining isn’t quite there yet, this is the direction it is heading, and challenges need to be considered.

Dani emphasized that the goal is not to take people out of mining and their jobs, but to get them in new roles that will allow them to do more.

These new roles and the emergence of autonomous technologies requires a shift in skill sets, however.

3. Workforce Skills

Miners face the challenge of expanding their skill sets because of new emerging technologies. Navigating an autonomous haul truck no longer means sitting at the wheel of a vehicle. Instead, it might involve navigating applications on a computer. New technical skills will be needed to thrive in this industry.

Mark looks back to when he first entered the mining industry, recalling that that coding was almost an essential requirement at the time.

Mark: “Applications didn’t exist, so you had to create your own spreadsheets. Nowadays, when the technology exists, it’s more important to know how to use the technology than to create it. They must understand the applications out there.”

Johnny added that what makes coding knowledge valuable isn’t the programming itself, but in understanding algorithms, calculations that you’re looking for, and the logic behind it.

Mining Magazine recently reported that the World Economic Forum is working with seven major mining companies to make a blockchain solution to help with responsible sourcing and sustainability. The emergence of more and more data brings up the need for its security.

A Global Mining Guidelines report revealed that every major mining company has been hit with ransomware. As more mines adopt digital solutions, the industry looks to professionals who can help protect data, and technology providers that they can trust.

In addition to the technical skills, there are soft skills that automation can’t replace.

While automated solutions can handle repetitive, technical tasks, humans will be expected to provide leadership, innovation and communication – skills that robots lack. Today’s applications are collecting massive amounts of data and converting it into information. What’s important is communicating this information in a way that makes sense to peers and stakeholders.

2. Communication Technologies

Technologies are even shifting the way we communicate with each other, making it one of the biggest disruptions in mining today. Programs that allow online chat, conference calls and video help remove communication delays and the need to travel.

Operations and mines are often spread out across multiple locations. Because of this, communication technology also plays an important role in safety. Communication can be instantaneous, providing real-time updates of mining operations.

There’s no question that mines are dangerous environments. With monitoring and sensor technologies, mines have the information they need to safely evacuate the mine in the case of an emergency.

IDS GeoRadar RockSpot detects rockfalls or avalanches, instantly notifying all parties, and triggering workflows to automatically shut down roads and enact evacuation policies.

One important role for mines today is not just being able to communicate within their organization, but outside of it as well. Stakeholders are key for mines to receive the funding that they need. Governments, communities, and non-profits can have a large role in cancellations and delays.

Which brings us to our final disruption.

1. Community Involvement & Education

How do mines make it more natural for the community to be engaged with their processes?

Dani emphasizes the importance of community education. Communities need to understand what mining means or what the project is. Communities often don’t have the information they need and make their own assumptions.

When mining was about small mining towns and mining camps, people didn’t have access to that sort of information. Socializing what a mine is doing is critical. The technology can work, but a project will still fail without interaction with the local community. Tools like social media help companies better communicate and partner with stakeholders and the community.

Johnny: “You can’t just tell people you need resources; people need to feel that they need those resources. They need to own that somehow”.

In the future, the public could decide where to target deposits using geographic information systems and social media. By empowering the community to look for natural resources and mineral deposits with the help of mining companies and consultants, it opens the possibility to unite communities and mines.

Smart Mines: The Future of Mining

The emergence of these 5 disruptions (automation, digital reality, workforce skills, communication and the community) means that in order to thrive, mines must become smart. Smart mines are mines that are efficient to operate, while maximizing safety and minimally impacting the environment.

This means embracing the fact that these changes are happening now, and looking towards innovative ways and new technologies to operate in a way that aligns with this changing future of mining.

What do you think are some of the biggest disruptions to the mining industry today?

  • Recent Posts