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Digital mining technologies: what works?

“One of the newest challenges for mining companies is managing the massive amounts of data produced across the value chain. Mining operations are spread out globally and decision-making is often siloed.

“One of the newest challenges for mining companies is managing the massive amounts of data produced across the value chain. Mining operations are spread out globally and decision-making is often siloed. Because the value chain isn’t connected through data, only about 10 per cent of the data we have is being levered to reduce process variability and optimize operations.” – Craig Thorton, managing director, Hatch Digital.

I recently participated in a workshop organized by MIRARCO Mining Innovation in Sudbury that was promoted as a Problem Fair aimed at highlighting mining innovation roadblocks.

Topics included productivity, digital mining, energy and safety. The objective was to gain some insights on the impact of digital technologies, the problems they can solve and best practices for the mining industry.

As the lead for the digital technology panel, I began a vigorous search for the best research and had discussions with a variety of industry providers in Northern Ontario and across Canada. I also spoke with a few mine supervisors responsible for implementing innovative digital platforms and services.

I focused on what works at this stage, what is being implemented with success and what comes next. The most illuminating study I found emanated from Accenture authors Amy Callahan and George Long who conducted an online survey in 2016 of 201 C-Level top management, executives and functional leaders in the mining and metals industry globally.

The results of their study were extremely insightful and can be found on the Accenture website.

Digital technology is far-reaching and has already or will be employed in the next three to five years in mining operations.

Following is a list of digital technologies and the percentage of mines that have deployed them or are planning to deploy them over the next three to five years:

Robotics & Automation (mobile & fixed assets): 54%
Drones, UAVs: 41%
Remote operating centres: 41%
Wearables: 41%
Virtual Simulation of Physical Environment: 39%
Real Time Analytics: 38%
Advanced Process Control: 37%
Image Analytics: 37%
Real Time Data Visualization: 35%

Ninety-seven per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with their digital investments over the past 12 months, 54 per cent indicated robotics and automation as the top spending area in mine operations, 46 per cent said that digital drives innovation and is the biggest factor in mining innovation, and 56 per cent said they are considering merging their IT and Operational Technology groups within the next 12 months.

The top three barriers to gaining more business value from digital technology that were cited included cybersecurity concerns (37 per cent), volatile commodity prices (29 per cent), internal data management capability (27 per cent), and lack of funding to test new applications (27 per cent).

The implications and impact from going digital demonstrates overall better equipment performance, operational/administrative cost savings of at least 42 per cent and better decision making overall. Executives said there was improved workforce productivity from mobile devices, automation visualization and the ability to simulate physical environments.

SAMSSA member Jannatec is leading the digital way with a hard hat that not only protects you from falling loose material but also has a central processing unit, an Android operating system, a camera, a microphone, a speaker, a USB port, GPS, Bluetooth, LTE, WiFi and a battery. A mechanic will be able to snap a photo of a piece of equipment, send it to a colleague, view an instructional video from a supplier, access a maintenance manual or call a manufacturer for a response.

Read more about Jannatec’s new hard hat platform at
Digital technologies are transforming the mining industry, and SAMSSA members like Jannatec are leading the way forward.