A survey undertaken by law firm Hogan Lovells on how technology is shaping the future prospects of mining, has found that almost 69% of respondents believe the skills gap is the greatest future risk to further technological integration in the mining industry.
The ‘Future of Mining’ report notes that data and computer science graduates were ranked the third-most important, with education in deep technology disciplines such as artificial intelligence and robotics identified as the fifth-most important among the technology-related risks.
To this end, Hogan Lovells partner Kevin Pietersen says collaboration is key to addressing the skills gap in the sector.
“Mining companies can work with universities by making use of the research that the university provides for the industry. Further, mining companies should work with civil society to educate and encourage science, technology, engineering and math subjects to attract more of the local community to qualifications in fields relating to mining.
“The government also plays a key role, especially in developing countries, to achieve this. Often where there is large-scale mining, the government receives foreign direct investment.
“Therefore, government can proactively create research and educational opportunities to increase the quality of the local workforce,” Pietersen notes.
Hogan Lovells says there seems to be a shift in attitudes towards technology within mining companies and surrounding communities and this will evolve in the future.
Companies are under pressure to operate in an environment-friendly manner. This is key in obtaining a social licence to operate.
The adoption of new technology is, therefore, a must have for mines as it presents several environment-friendly incentives including health and safety, carbon emissions and water impacts.
“Technology also presents efficient production for mining companies. This is a good incentive for them to adopt new technologies, and dominant mining companies have already embraced technology in their operations,” Pietersen states.
In this series of reports, Hogan Lovells surveyed more than 400 professionals across the global mining community and interviewed some of the world’s leading mining experts on topics that are critical to making the mining industry fit for the twenty-first century.
The global experience regarding the impact of technology in the mining sector is not unlike that in South Africa. According to US-based Hogan Lovells representative Jessica Black, there has certainly been a large push for automation and digitisation of mining operations.
Automation and digitisation help mining companies to realise their full potential, operate more efficiently and ensure they are working smarter and safer.
“For example, three-dimensional modelling, virtual reality and augmented reality allow mining companies to visualise mine systems and use geo-spatial data to virtually construct buildings, plants and mines, as well as to train miners, solve problems, generate reports and monitor facilities and tailings dams, among myriad other uses,” she notes.
Black adds that smart data and machine learning can be used to improve operational efficiency, and mine safety and production workflow, generating data-driven analytics that help maximise productivity and efficiency.
“This while drones and unmanned aerial systems can map and survey areas in record time, create time-lapse records of operations, and measure inventory and manage assets,” she says.
Hogan Lovells partner and global mining head Matthew Johnson highlights that the data and insights featured in this ‘Future of Mining’ series of reports have highlighted that diversity, sustainability and technology are intimately linked, and embracing all three areas is fundamental to the future success and longevity of the mining sector.
“The influence of technology on the future of mining has vast potential. With the adoption of technology such as data analytics, robotics, automation and artificial intelligence, mining companies can start to develop new ways of extracting minerals in remote locations, improve health and safety practices, and drive the transition to renewable energy.
“As mines across the continent mature and drilling becomes harder, technology will extend mine life by enabling existing resources to be maximised, new development assets to be found and unlock greater value for all stakeholders,” he says.