New advances in mining technologies are benefiting the industry at different stages of the mining lifecycle — exploration, mining, and processing. Various technologies have revolutionized the way mining is carried out and mineral resources extracted. From extraction to exploration, almost every area of mining has been affected by technological innovations.
According to Kirby Johnson, mining technology consulting partner at Wipro Ltd, mining is increasingly turning to re-engineering for solutions, including automation and technology, in order to cut costs and remain competitive.
Mining professionals are increasingly turning to technology to reduce costs and increase profitability.
But what technologies are starting to change the way mining is done? And what technologies are around the corner that has the potential to radically change the mining process? Let's dig a little deeper and find answers to these questions.
Role of Technology in the Mining Sector
Most people probably view mining as a relatively low-tech sector. The common perception is that mining relies on old labor-intensive practices. However, the fact is that similar to most other industries, the mining sector has undergone a technological transformation. Increasingly sophisticated technologies and equipment are able to bring more accuracy and efficiency to mining operations.
1. Exploration Technologies
Latest exploration technologies allow geologists to detect smaller concentrations of minerals. Emerging technologies such as portable X-ray fluorescence and fluorescence scanning can directly assess the concentration in rocks. Differential leeching technologies are also under development that can be used in exploration activity.
In addition, there is a move towards miniaturization of analytical equipment. Miners can use hand-held devices that can be used in the mines or in fields to offer real time results. The equipment can benefit both miners in carrying out exploration activities and environmental regulators.
Hyperspectral technologies are also under development for use in mapping ground surface mineralogy. The process can be used to carry out accurate surveys for mineral development. One hyperspectral technology has been developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administrations (NASA). Known as airborne visible/infrared imaging spectrometer (AVIRIS), the technology has been successfully used for mineral exploration in the US.
Lastly, HyLogger techniques are also being used for exploration of minerals. The technology has changed the way core samples are analyzed. Instead of drilling holes to find mineral resources, the new technology makes use of hyperspectral logging to analyze minerals in the core samples. The entire process is much more precise and accurate results.
Automation is a popular topic in almost every industry. And it's true in the mining sector as well. Autonomous trucks are now frequently used around mines. The next step could be 'mines without miners' as global mining giant Rio Tinto has revealed a $2.2 billion plan called 'intelligent mine' package that consists of robotics, driverless trains, and trucks. Some of the automation tools allow producers to drill deeper into areas that are inhabitable resulting in improved profitability.
In 2009, Hitachi had purchased Wenco to leverage from dynamic fleet dispatch automation software for developing autonomous haul trucks leveraging from dynamic fleet dispatch automation software. Last year, the company had announced successful trials of autonomous trucks using Wenco software. The autonomous trucks were able to haul 300,000 bcm of the earth in a mine rehabilitation work. Other companies that are working on autonomous mining vehicles include CAT and Komatsu.
3. Hi-Fidelity Imaging Technology
Hi-fidelity imaging technologies are necessary for visualization of data across different value chains. The visualization process can help improve productivity and reduce cost in mineral mining. Imagery can enable detailed analysis of sample remotely.
Traditionally the testing process took weeks to complete. But now with spatial data visualization technologies, the process can be completed in under 20 minutes. The new technology has proven effective for time management and reduction.
Spatial data visualization technique consists of four viewing scenarios. These include virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 2D, 3D imaging techniques. VR simulate real-world environment while AR overlays digital information in a real-world environment thereby augmenting the real world with computer-generated imputes such as graphics, sound, and video. With increased research and development, this technology can become mainstream.
3D imaging technique can print accurate impression with great depth. It allows the human brain to comprehend and understand complex interrelated issues. The visual technique can assist mining team to make decisions regarding different areas of the mining operations. Mining professionals can rotate objects and observe them with spatial depth.
4. Geophysical Surveys Using Technology
Advancements in drone technology have made it effective for use in mining operations. Using drones, mining professionals can carry out more effective geophysical surveys. The technique that is currently being explored can act as an alternative to deduce geographical structures and changes in properties between boreholes. The drone technology is expected to result in more accurate results of geophysical surveys.
5. Electric Vehicles
Electric vehicles are set to replace diesel-powered vehicles with increased pressure on mining companies to tackle carbon emissions. While large companies such as CAT are producing electric trucks such as the Underground Electric LHD, several smaller companies like GHH and ETF Manufacturing have also introduced electric vehicles for use around mines. More mining companies are expected to switch to electric vehicles not just to reduce carbon emissions, but also reduce fuel costs.
6. Data Analytics
A lot of mining companies are using data analytics software to make a decision. Data-driven decisions help streamline operations and reduce risks. With the use of data analytics software, mining executives are allowed to make quick and fast decisions. The use of the data analytics has resulted in improved efficiency, increased saving, and improved operational sustainability.
With the increased realization of opportunities provided by technologies, mining companies are expected to embrace technologies to the fullest in the coming years. Advances in technology could lead to a more efficient process for exploration, mining, and processing. The economic benefits of using technology in mining are substantial.
Companies can use data processing, visualization, and sensor technology for more accurate analysis of samples. The different technological tools will help in making the mining operation more efficient, cost-effective and profitable.