PRETORIA (miningweekly.com) – The mining industry is at an inflection point and on the cusp of profound change, Australian mining futurist Gavin Yeates told delegates at the AEL Workshop for Explosives Engineers and Technical Representatives (WEETR) themed IntelliBlast, in Pretoria.
Delivering the keynote address, he said rapid change is happening among leading mining companies, noting that there is a widening gap between the “leaders and laggards”.
“. . . It’s not just a technology shift, there are many other challenges that miners are dealing with that drives this change. Global demand for metals is increasing, new orebodies have not been discovered, the grades of the orebodies we currently have are declining and we are stuck in a compliance culture, preventing us from being agile,” he said.
Yeates noted that society, in general, also did not value mining, which impeded investment into the sector.
“There are, however, technology enablers which allow connected mobility to come together, enabling us to do things we’ve never done before,” he said.
Yeates pointed out that mining companies were implementing techniques and solutions to improve their short-term control planning, and blasting was part of that process.
He further highlighted that mining companies were active in the automation area and that, with blasting, the idea of fully autonomous loading priming and remote initiation of blasts was something that should be on the radar.
“One of the barriers to change is pushing automation, which dovetails into the social licence to operate . . . local communities expect to benefit from mining operations, so there is tension there,” he said.
He further noted that “silos” were being removed from mine management and that there was a shift towards using technology to simulate mine processes, streamlining management and breaking down the “silo mentality.”
“Blasting has to be seen as part of the process and has a lot to do with how we can mine differently, such as applying ore sorting that is blast induced or in situ leach, which is the direction in which mining is potentially going."
Underpinning this was a digital theme and digital technologies were paramount in delivering these types of solutions, Yeates stated.
“We are already seeing mines that are running fully autonomously from remote operating centres . . . the number of automated trucks in mines, for example, has doubled from 200 last year to 400 this year,” he said.
He noted that many mines wanted to implement automation, but that a limiting factor to introducing this technology was the ability of suppliers to supply the technology, as well as upskilling employees and the ability of mines to change.
“Supply from equipment manufacturers is a major constraint and getting the skills to a level to be able to do that is hindering. It’s a fair change management exercise on mine sites. It doesn’t happen quickly.”
Meanwhile, AEL Technical and Compliance Executive Dirk van Soelen – also a speaker at the AEL WEETR conference – said that it was important for the industry to use a trial and error approach to develop new technologies and products that create operational value.
“Operational efficiencies are not there, owing to the slow adoption rate of technology,” he said.
He explained that the industry was slow to implement new technologies and that a middle ground should be reached, where technologies are tried and tested without compromising safety.
“The mining fraternity has grasped the concept that digitisation is required to remain relevant . . . but it is not totally clear how to extract the value from it,” he said.
Van Soelen pointed out that it was key, for example, to be able to track and trace actual blasted ore to show what value was being given to it, and how good blasting practices affected the downstream mining process.
He noted that, to adapt to a digitisation mindset, there needs to be an influx of new skills for the migration to the digital world.
“For personnel not to become redundant they need to be upskilled and trained in the digital industry,” he said.