The New Age of Mining

Mining’s goal posts have well and truly shifted. It is no longer about how well we move dirt with the latest and best equipment, but how well we act on information to move dirt more efficiently.

This modern era of mining is defined by utilizing smart machines and influenced by algorithms. There is a strong industry momentum of innovations surrounding Automation and Digitalization. These are fuelling the creation of an unprecedented amount of data – over 2.5 quintillion bytes daily in fact – but even more critical than before is the undertaking to transform ‘Big Data’ into valuable and actionable insights.

Investing for Automation Success: Strategies and Implementation

In a recent executive survey on Big Data, the optimism on Big Data investments could not more clear with more than 80 percent of respondents declaring their digitalization investments to be successful, and almost 50 percent of respondents stating that they were able to obtain measurable benefits.

In truth, to achieve sustained enterprise-wide Digital Transformation, there needs to be more emphasis on organizational and cultural change. Of all respondents in the same executive survey, only 37 percent reported an effective transition into a data-driven culture.

A successful enterprise-wide implementation of digital strategies is not just about selecting the right technology. It requires a sound implementation plan to help warrant general workforce adoption, and alignment with goals and business processes, so achieved benefits are acted upon.

Getting automation right requires a strong focus on people strategies to transform the business while maintaining an engaged, motivated and appropriately-skilled workforce.

A critical first-step is to communicate the value and benefits of the digitalization program to the workforce. Frontline teams have the most visibility to operational issues and challenges. The earlier they are involved and understand the end goals, the more likely they will be committed to the success of the project. This ensure data pipelines are set-up correctly and encourage end-user adoption and utilization.

Invest the time to discover their day-to-day operational pain points and to demonstrate how the new technology will help make their jobs easier.

Set clear and practical Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) from the perspectives of both Corporate and Operational team members. Digital Transformation projects are complex and require investments of significant time and resources.

Identify the problem(s) that digitalization will solve. In the mining context, a few key questions to ask are: How does this increase productivity or safety? Does it de-risk a project? A pragmatic approach must be taken towards understanding how this strategy affects the end goals. Any data collection strategy must be aligned with the business goals. Is the information gathered going to help answer the highest priority business questions?

Above all, do acknowledge that this is a change-management process that requires continuous feedback and engagement. It provides assurance to the frontline teams that their feedback is heard, and they are recognized as key contributors to the success of the new technology program.

Deriving True Benefits from Data

Only 0.5 percent of all accessible data is actually analyzed and used today. The other 99.5 percent remains unanalyzed and is essentially an expensive and fruitless exercise in data collection! Data must be transformed into meaning and insight.

To ensure that data is being used effectively, the focus should never be on the type, quality and amount of data generated. The objective should not merely be an initiative to increase internal knowledge and understanding of operations. Instead, there should be an extended intent for this data to be acted on and the success of any digitalization strategy should be based on how many decisions have been influenced. On the theme of decision-making, consider what new procedures can be put in place to streamline the decision-making process to capitalize on this newly accessible data.

The mining industry is obsessed with tracking metrics, and metrics or reporting on their own are futile. Understanding what has occurred in the past without looking to optimize the future is not the most valuable exercise. The focus must be on analysis and improvements.

Automation and the Digitalized Future of Work

As industries continue on the path of digital transformation, it was determined that by 2030, we can expect 30 percent of the global work hours to be automated. Jobs most susceptible to automation are those physical in nature, especially those performed in static environments. It is not a given that employment will cease for personnel currently in these roles. Rather, they may be asked to perform tasks that cannot possibly be completed by a machine such as those requiring social interactions and people management skills.

Automation expedites workflows and processes through the application of technology. From a data collection standpoint in dynamic industrial environments like mining, drone automation enables important insights to be obtained more frequently and, arguably, at a more consistent quality as well.

Both the capture and processing of data must be automated to ensure operational sustainability. This processing must be applied downstream to provide additional value through the cleansing, classification, indexing and validation of raw data into digitalized insights.

It cannot be said enough that Automation replaces routine, mundane repetitive tasks. Tasks become redundant. Not people. This is exactly the shift we are expecting with the industrial workforce of the future – no longer will roles be focused on routine data collection, often in hazardous environments. Instead, there will be enhanced job enrichment with skills and expertise being leveraged for critical business analysis and decision-making.

We have transitioned from the digital revolution to the data revolution and automation and digitization has the potential to radically reshape organizations and the people within them.

Leaders today have the option to stay ahead of their competitors by adopting a rigorous approach for identifying and prioritizing these projects that increase safety and deliver value for their operations customers and shareholders. However, to do so sustainably, and at scale, requires linking the organization’s automation and people strategies. Getting automation right requires organizations to consider the human aspect of how it will impact its workers and employees. Often the skill sets utilized in the task that is becoming redundant can add value in optimizing the automated process.

The above was an extract from the presentation Dan Ward, Mining Technology Manager, gave at the recent Future of Mining conference in Sydney. Watch the full webinar of the presentation to learn more.



In the next installment of our ‘Automation and Digitalization’ blog series, Dan will take a deeper dive into the specific application of a Data-Driven Strategy for Tailings Dam Management.

Using case study examples, he will outline how the influx of data can be managed, analyzed and leveraged to not only inform but to also predict outcomes.

Stay tuned!