When it comes to digital innovation, the mineral exploration industry is one of the most backward-thinking industries on the planet, says Integra Gold chair George Salamis. His company has an artificially-intelligent virtual reality model of its resources that learns from itself through data collection. The database is continually updated and creates progressively accurate new models of underground gold deposits.
“It’s all part of a much-needed digital revolution in mining; a disruption that many other industries are already in,” Salamis says.
“Today we are more asset-driven. Our resources are assets. Our know-how is steel know-how. Five years from now, our assets will comprise more the platform. It will be more intellectual property. Our people will be different to a certain extent. We will have much, more digital people.” – Gisbert Rühl, CEO of Klöckner
In the near future, mines will make use of augmented reality, enabling workers to observe real-time air quality data displayed above their heads. 3D-blasting schematics superimposed onto the walls they’re drilling will help keep them on target. Are you ready for this or are you about to get disrupted?
Centrally tracking your data creates endless possibilities
The exponential growth of computing power means that mines could now stick sensors on pretty much everything from haul trucks to workers’ uniforms, tracking the data centrally and then open-sourcing it to let the tech world help find efficiency improvements and solve problems.
“Ideally, you’d love to be able to run a mine where you have real-time data, where you know how much is being produced, where it’s being produced, how individual sub-processes in your mine are actually performing,” Andrew Swart, Deloitte mining consultant, says.
Both physical ore extraction and data collection and analysis are still highly labour-intensive projects the world over. But computing power is about to change that.
Establish a separate unit for external innovation
Building an innovation unit needs to be a carefully crafted process, explains Gisbert Rühl, CEO of German metals company Klöckner. “It has to be a separate unit, especially when it’s at least partially disrupted. This kind of innovation doesn’t work from within,” says Rühl. “That works with sustainable innovations, but with innovations that are more disruptive, it doesn’t work from inside.”
A separate unit needs to be established because you’ll need the skills of a different set of people. In Klöckner’s case, it was digital natives. Separation extends to processes and maybe even a separate way to make profits.
Build digital thinking into your business strategy
As a business leader, you need to focus on embedding digital thinking into the heart of your business strategy and practices. Doing so completely transforms the way corporate decisions are made across the enterprise.
“I think the industry has not really embraced what digitisation and technology can do. And I think that is the next piece we have to get our mind around and where you should expect to see a quantum change in how we do things,” says Graham Kerr of South32.
The trick is envisioning the future in terms of how digital technology will change core mining processes, the flow of information, and back-office process support.
DID YOU KNOW?
Globally, 69% of mining companies are looking at remote operation and monitoring centres, 29% at robotics and 27% at unmanned drones. A combination of these will result in fewer people in hands-on operational roles. This will improve productivity, safety, and reduce overall cost.
Turn potential benefits into reality
Understanding and driving this change goes a long way in effectively leading in a digital mining environment. “Harnessing the potential of digital technology will unlock value across our business, helping us grow our free cash flow per share. In so doing, we will make ourselves into a leading twenty-first century company – enhancing productivity and efficiency at our mines, and improving decision-making and performance across every area of our business,” explains Barrick Gold Corporation’s John Thornton.
The skilful use of data insights to support effective and rapid decision making enables you to lead a more distributed workforce with fewer people based on sites.
Start implementing from the inside out
The future of mining lies in automating physical operations and digitising assets. This will result in improved safety, increased productivity and decreased expenses. These are some of the core mining processes that can be improved in your organisation:
- Digitised geological data
- Autonomous equipment
- IoT sensors for real-time data capture
- Wearables for field maintenance and operator safety
- Drones for inspection, stock and safety monitoring
- Diverse mobile connected workforce
- Digital Twin’ – Digitised engineering and asset information
- Integrated remote operations.
“More timely data from across the value chain will also enable ore-body models, mine plans, and financial models to be updated more frequently, and shorten the planning cycles,” according to Deloitte.
Digitising the future
74% of global business executives surveyed by Forrester have a digital strategy, but only 15% believe they have the necessary capabilities and skills to execute that strategy. The typical challenges faced by mining organisations, and suggested approaches, according to Deloitte are:
- Developing a digital strategy and managing digital transformation – pilot new approaches in a sandbox environment for phased rolling-out or easy-shelving.
- Automating operations and digitising assets – highlight the gaps and focus digitisation efforts on the areas of greatest value and impact through assessment of engineering data management (EDM).
- Delivering the digital mine nerve centre – embed data science, analytic skills, the foundational data platforms and analytic tools across the organisation.
- Implementing supporting platforms and enablers – robotic process automation (RPA) can replace some tasks currently performed by humans, enabling cost reduction in support processes and shared services.
- Leading a diverse, distributed and connected workforce – bring in new skills while supporting your current talent for a successful transition.
Get ahead by equipping yourself with insights and practical steps on how to tackle the digital revolution along with its challenges and opportunities. Start small by automating specific processes or digitising a pilot set of assets.
As an executive, you need to be serious about reaping the benefits of the digital future. Start by seeking answers to some hard questions such as: