Saturday, 8 August 2020
Technical Innovations that Can Change the Image of Mining
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Technical Innovations that Can Change the Image of Mining

This was originally published by Martin Vasilescu, Country Manager, Enaex.

Is the public image of the mining industry different to its operational health? There was a time when the answer seemed to be ‘yes.’ The mining process was less transparent, environmental concerns were not so clearly understood, and the dynamics of work culture went largely unexplored at conferences.

But we live in a different reality today. If a new technology or method is going to be successfully applied to any mining operation, it has to generate value on more than one level. It cannot boost performance in one area only to create friction at some other point along the production chain.

These realities are reflected in the upcoming AIMEX conference (27-29 August in Sydney). The event is focused on uplifting the mining industry’s image, preparing for future disruptions, and complying with future governance. A diverse group of mining professionals from Australia and beyond will gather to share insight on a wide range of topics, from technical solutions to talent management.

As a pioneer in digital blasting, we’re interested in technical innovations for their own sake – but we’ve noticed that things get really interesting when new technology also has potential to shift the image of commercial mining in positive ways, thereby strengthening social license. Here are three examples:

Drone mapping

For a long time, mining has been known as a heavy, difficult process – which it is – but the arrival of drone mapping can help shift both the reality and the perception. Automated drone launches and retrievals can now be programmed at regular intervals, resulting in the automatic updating of extremely detailed site maps – from panoramic views of 1600 square kilometers all the way down to 3cm resolution.

As more data is collected, more insight is generated. Operational inefficiencies, safety hazards, and opportunities for a smoother production chain are much more likely to be noticed when maps of this quality are constantly being updated.

Safety standards are further strengthened by sending drones (instead of people) to inspect high structures. Drone mapping quite literally gives us a fresh perspective on mining operations, and it represents one of the most intriguing steps away from the image of mining as a stubborn industry that often overlooks its own inefficiencies.

Driverless haul trucks

Driverless hauling has the power to change the industry’s image from multiple angles. For starters, the value proposition is undeniable – Rio Tinto has reported that its growing fleet of autonomous vehicles are 15% more cost-effective than manually driven trucks. This margin will increase as best practice evolves, and as suppliers like Komatsu and Caterpillar continue to refine the technology.

Now consider the implications for human resources. It’s true that many existing drivers will have to learn how to supervise driverless fleets from remote offices, or else be trained for other roles. But the infusion of young, tech-savvy talent into the mining industry – which we know to be necessary – is a huge potential plus.

Digital blasting

The evolution of blasting pre-dates the most recent mining innovations, but its implications are no less profound. The Enaex Mining Technical Services (EMTS) team at Davey Bickford Enaex often see first-hand comparisons between traditional blast methods and digital blasting applied by qualified experts. The ability to break rock to spec – and to do it with fewer blasts – has created a wellspring of value at countless operations, both above and below ground.

Digital blasting also consumes less material than other types of blasting, and offers superior control over ground vibrations. It’s a ‘win’ for balance sheets and social license when operators take a more considered approach to blasting operations.

Creating value on multiple levels

Participants of the AIMEX event should expect a lively set of discussions around technical savvy, social license, and how the distinction is being blurred. In this changing landscape, dynamic innovations that create value on multiple levels are exactly what the industry needs in order to elevate its image and stay healthy for the long run.


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