Mining and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, is an ongoing transformation of traditional industries with smart technologies. Automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence are changing the way mines operate.

In our latest Mining Matters podcast, Hexagon’s Mining division president Nick Hare; and representing the University of Arizona, current department head Moe Momayez; and former department head John Kemeny discuss the implications of Industry 4.0


Q: How is Industry 4.0 impacting mining and what are some of the major trends that you’re seeing?

JK:  Many of the technologies that are in Industry 4.0 have been around for a very long time. For instance, Split Engineering. We started 22 years before getting merged to Hexagon. You look at MinePlan – formerly MineSight: They’ve been going even longer than that. So, I think what Industry 4.0 might represent for the mining industry is the effective integration of all these technologies, both for safety and optimization. The idea is that we could improve the safety and we are able to do things and be, let’s say, agile in a fashion that we wouldn’t be able to do without that kind of smart integration.

MM:  I absolutely agree. I think mining has been at the forefront of technology. For example, 20 years ago, Garmin introduced StreetPilot GPS. That was the first portable navigations system for automation use. It cost around $550 and anyone could buy a unit and carry it in a car. Now go back another 20 years, so 40 years ago. For the first time, the mining industry installed GPS units on board haul trucks and used it to stream data to run the first automated fleet-management system.

We are already observing a step change with the introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence and data and analytics in a day-to-day mining operation. I think for today’s mining engineers, that’s very important. I think that’s where Hexagon is going and where the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering is going. It’s very important. For today’s mining engineer, having the skills to mine minerals and mine data go hand in hand. Combining innovation and technology with intelligent application of data analytics in a high-tech industry, like mining, could potentially unlock huge returns for the mines of the future.

NJ:  Nick, how do you see Hexagon’s role in Industry 4.0?

NH: We are following the broader Hexagon vision and mission statement, which is to be a leader in sensor, software and autonomy solutions. We are attempting to take an industry focus, a go to market approach. We serve our customers with their needs, with specific solutions to increase productivity, safety, and quality, which, as John and Moe said, I think mining is at the forefront of that technology advancement.

What’s impressive to me is the adoption in the industry over the last three to five years. And I think you’re seeing an exponential curve in terms of how mines are viewing technology. And while you have capital spend looking to decrease as a total across the industry, the investment in the technology, both nominally and as a percentage, is growing. Hexagon has the widest portfolio for the entire lifecycle of a mine, including planning, operations, safety, drill and blast, and our enterprise solutions. We can address challenges at each point of the workflow and can partner with great universities like the University of Arizona to make sure we’re solving those challenges.

Q:  It could be argued that the mines are already preparing for this industrial revolution. But from a wider perspective, what do you think mines can do to embrace this industrial revolution?

MM: Mines have embraced or are embracing this mining revolution. The challenge is not in acquiring the data, because we’re already doing that. The challenge is in sorting, analyzing, and displaying the data in a meaningful way. If you look at some of the mining companies, what they’ve focused on is the creation of remote operation centers. Here information from operations at different locations around the country and sometimes around the world are aggregated, analyzed, and made available for management to review. I think that’s where we’re going. And I think more and more companies are going to look at changing the way they operate and putting this type of technology in use at every planning operation.

JK:  Mines have a difficult task, and this is where companies like Hexagon can help, as well as educational institutions like the University of Arizona. I’ll pose a question: Should a mining engineer also be a programmer today? Is that something necessary? Or should a mining engineer stick to mining engineering and maybe not have to go that direction? You could ask the same question for all the different kinds of employees at a major mining operation. It really comes down to how do they continue to play their role and integrate with new ways of using data and technology. It’s mind boggling in a way. I think it’s fantastic, but I think it’s a challenge for the mining industry.

To hear the full interview, click here.

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