Tomorrow’s miners won’t be swinging pickaxes in 46 degrees Celsius, they’ll be combining digital tech, maths, science and data skills in cool, NASA-style control rooms.
The first wave of mining tech innovation brought new technologies such as autonomous drills and driverless haul trucks and trains.
The second tech wave means more automation and robotics, as well as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT), 3D simulation and modelling, and data analytics. In particular, AI and IoT will bring all the different parts of the mining industry together to make the industry safer, less environmentally harmful and more.
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1. Modelling and visualisation
AI is being used to combine and analyse masses of data from millions of sensors to automatically build 3D simulations and models. These can be used to ‘see’ and better understand mineral deposits underground (known as orebodies). It will also calculate how safe existing mines are and better predict the impact operations have on the
environment and communities.
2. Integration through digitalisation
Mining involves finding minerals in the Earth, digging them out, processing them and
trading and transporting them. These are all very different activities, often in different
locations, so joining them up is complicated. New tech aims to do this to create one
super-efficient integrated supply chain. It will use integrated control centres, digital
twins* and advanced analytics to test loads of different scenarios in all operations.
3. More automation
More automation is coming on-stream. Entire mines are now run with driverless trucks and machines that can ‘read’ rocks to spot the ones to keep and dump. Increasingly, environmental experts are using drones to check things like the health of trees in hard-to reach areas. Drills with hundreds of sensors combine with geospatial data and 3D mapping to analyse the rock as the drill burrows through it – in real time.
4. Safer mines
More automation means fewer humans have to work in dangerous areas in mines. Also, tech can now better predict risks, like when a mine’s rock structures might collapse or when machines might wear out or break. Predicting risks can save lives.
A digital twin is a virtual replica of a real, physical thing, like a mine. It uses the Internet of Things, AI, machine learning and software analytics to create digital simulation models. It updates and changes in real time as the real twin’s physical elements change. – Matthew Brace
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Author: STEM Contributor
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