Digital technology stands to add significant value to the mining industry in terms of the exploration, project evaluation, mine design, operations, closure, and post-closure phases. This is the view of Heinrich Jantzen, Senior Mining Advisor at Zutari. The leading consulting engineering and infrastructure advisory firm will have a presence at Mining Indaba Africa from 5 to 8 February at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
On a revenue-to-revenue basis, the industry spends 80% less on technology and innovation compared with the petroleum sector, for example. However, the operating costs are increasing three times faster than consumer-inflation rates and could double in under five years.
“With industry margins being squeezed on all fronts, the mining industry simply must embrace innovation if it wants to find more productive, efficient, and sustainable ways of extracting value from the minerals it mines,” says Jantzen. This calls for major innovation for the industry to resolve its critical challenges.
“The potential to add value lies in increased production, productivity, efficiency, safety, and reducing the risk of human error,” adds Jantzen. So-called ‘disruptive’ technology that stands to play a critical role includes the Internet of Things, cloud computing, advanced robotics, genomics, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence (AI). Other emerging technologies such as automation, machine learning, renewable energy generation, energy storage, advanced materials, and more will unlock further value.
Jantzen suggests that mining companies develop a ‘technology map’ to facilitate mine modernisation by means of technological advancement in the mining lifecycle. For example, selected innovative technologies have been adapted specifically for mining. In addition, technology deployed in non-mining industries has potential to add value to mining.
“Given the magnitude of the extraction challenges faced, it is quite extraordinary that the global mining industry currently spends so little on innovation and business-improvement programmes,” comments Jantzen.
Jantzen also calls for lean management and lean operating system improvements. However, these are likely to be harder to sustain. “Every year, the work becomes more difficult. Ore grades are declining, while water scarcity threatens to strand assets in the ground, and operating licences have become more difficult to obtain,” highlights Jantzen.
Technology can improve the industry’s environmental footprint, move workers out of harm’s way, turnaround uneconomical reserves and make work less repetitive and strenuous. However, obtaining the correct technology is just part of the puzzle.
“There are many examples of companies that have invested in technology and not seen improvements because they neglected the vital engines of tech-enabled transformation, management systems, and culture,” points out Jantzen.
While the mining industry plays a critical role in the global economy, it also presents unique challenges when it comes to sustainability and environmental impact and accelerating the industry’s transition to a greener future. “Constantly evolving technology, innovation, and digitalisation are key. Mining must embrace these future advancements to remain competitive,” concludes Jantzen.