Accenture Industry Q&A: Autonomous Operations in Mining
Autonomous operations in mining
have the potential to significantly improve efficiency and productivity, while
increasing safety and sustainability.
Today, a number of companies have
fleets of autonomous trucks, trains and loaders at mine sites, or are piloting
the use of these vehicles. These efforts are a great leap forward from
traditional practices, but they are just scratching the surface of how
autonomous systems can be used in mining. In Accenture’s view, autonomous mine
operations can and will go much further.
As our Industry Leader for
Digital Transformation in Mining, Accenture is working closely with Austmine to
develop the understanding of the impacts of emerging technologies on the mining
sat down with Liv Carroll, Applied
Intelligence Mining Lead, Accenture and Dean Felton, Mining Industry Lead for Australia and
New Zealand, Accenture to explore the business
case and driving forces of automation for mining.
The key message from Liv
and Dean in this interview is that organisations must take a broader view of
autonomy, creating a clear and concise roadmap to harness future opportunities
of the technology, in order to take full advantage of the autonomous evolution.
Before embarking on the
autonomous journey, we must first assess where the industry stands.
If you think autonomous
operations just means driverless trucks and unmanned drills—think again.
“The development of autonomous application and
systems in mining is varied, but overall mining is not where—for example—
manufacturing is already,” Liv stated.
“As an industry, mining has traditionally focused on equipment, rather
than process, so is not reaping the benefits. However, the opportunities are becoming
more real and substantial as time goes on.”
Dean added, “There’s been a
significant change in the past 12-24 months in terms of attitudes to data,
shifting from capturing all the data and creating a data lake, to asking, what
is it in our operations that we need to address in terms of efficiencies,
delays, risk and capturing lost value—and what can be automated.”
In Dean’s view, there are
point solutions happening, but businesses are still working in silos—sometimes
with different data lakes and analytics teams working independently.
“We need to be more integrated and focus on the 2-3 areas across the
business that represent the biggest opportunity in terms of risk and value.”
Accenture place this risk
and value opportunity at the forefront of the critical success factors for
There is a view from the
industry that organisations must digitise and capture the opportunities
presented by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). However, without a
documented and measurable outcome in mind, the intended benefits of the
automation journey can be quickly lost in business complexity.
When assessing the needs
and benefits of automation, Accenture urges companies to begin with the
critical success factors of Triple Zero, meaning zero harm, zero loss, zero
Liv deliberated on what
these concepts mean for mining businesses.
“Safeguarding human health
and wellbeing must be central to the automation journey. But zero harm runs
well beyond this as well.”
“The project environment
must also be considered, including the protection of machines, assets and
critical infrastructure, especially with the intensifying challenge of
“Furthermore, zero harm
should be considered through the lens of your operations community. Digital
transformation can also be central to sustaining community and social trust.”
Of course, the benefits of
automation in mining are often viewed through a productivity and efficiency
lens. But Accenture reiterate that true value from automation comes from taking
a wholistic view of the organisation.
“Success can be measured
when mining business have end-to-end visualisation of losses and optimisation.
Return on investment from capital projects and digital investment can then be
measured and a continuous improvement process put in place to drive value.”
Finally, zero waste must be
a focus for any strategic initiatives moving forward.
“We are moving towards a
future of circular economies and marketplaces where users actively participate.”
“Mining must assess technology implementation against its benefits for
climate, sustainability and energy and water efficiency, along with the
opportunity to re-use waste for productive purposes.”
The Best Approach to
With success factors in
place, the best approach for autonomy implementation within the mining system
must be found.
Dean believes mines should
be designed with a balanced approach to maximum productivity and profitability.
In his view, the mining industry must embrace a manufacturing mindset.
“Manufacturers operate on
wafer-thin margins and spend time finding losses and delays in their systems
and processes, then continuously work to remove them.”
“Mining companies should be searching for their biggest and most costly
losses and then work to push them out, which will help the move to maximum
Liv added that these
organisational processes must be reviewed and rethought before automation takes
“If you simply automate
what you have now, you’re just doing the same thing faster.”
“There are degrees of autonomous
operations, and you don’t need end-to-end automation across the entire
operation to realise value. Start by understanding your process framework.
Identify where automating a process can delay downtime or accelerate access to
don’t have to be all or nothing. It can start with one process, then another,
and so on—with each step adding value along the way to support your broader
The Future Face of
There is still a fear that
surrounds automation. But the next generation of leaders graduating from our
universities and developing technology skills will embed digitisation in the
Liv noted, “The new skills
that are making their way into mining include data science, machine learning,
artificial intelligence and robotics.”
“But there is also an
anticipated increase in the need for those skills that machines cannot provide,
such as leadership, creativity, innovation, complex problem solving, critical
thinking, communication and emotional intelligence.”
According to Dean, to
accelerate this pace of change, mining must change the narrative.
“To win interest and
enthusiasm from young people—and those from other industries—miners will need
to rebrand as modern, digital and responsible businesses.”
Embracing the autonomous
evolution represents a giant leap to achieving this outcome.
more information about Accenture’s Future of Autonomous mining at https://www.accenture.com/au-en/insights/natural-resources/autonomous-operations-mining
Dean Felton, Mining Industry Lead for Australia and New Zealand, Accenture
Liv Carroll, Applied Intelligence Mining Lead, Accenture