Equinix Mining Technology Report 2021-22 draws on insights from leaders across the industry to paint a picture of current technology and innovation trends.
Miners are investing heavily in technology such as data, connectivity and telecommunications, and automation. Of survey respondents, 93% are increasing overall spend, while 44% said they are significantly increasing investment.
Despite the challenges the industry has faced over the last two years, such as economic slowdowns, increased operational complexity and greater health and safety considerations, as well as business disruptions due to the pandemic, the future is incredibly bright. In general, mining leaders are very optimistic about their prospects.
10: Using technology to meet ESG goals
There are still a number of ongoing challenges in using technology to meet ESG goals. In particular, respondents noted that insufficient preparation for extensive automation, the need for transparent reporting, issues with implementation and logistics, and lack of technology support could be possible barriers.
But miners also see that their investment in technology will help them reach their sustainability, growth and productivity goals, reporting that these are the big-ticket opportunities.
09: Hybrid and multicloud enable agility
While the mining industry has had a long history with partnerships like JVs, rigid infrastructure and data security issues have at times made it hard for such partnerships. However, technology, and more specifically, adoption of hybrid and multicloud services, has played a critical role in enabling increased collaboration. An environment that allows businesses to connect to cloud partners, mining technology partners or business partners has supported the path towards successful partnerships.
08: Pandemic accelerates rate of digitalisation
It is no surprise that for industry leaders, the pandemic greatly influenced their strategies and areas of focus for the last 18 months. And for many, it accelerated the rate of digitalisation. The second main factor influencing miners’ general business outlook is digitalisation and technology (21%), followed by labour and wages (10%).
07: Technology supports ongoing HR growth
Overall, the labour market remains very strong in the mining industry, which is consistent with numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (Snapshot of employment by industry, 2021). According to survey data, eight in 10 miners intend to hire in the year ahead, demonstrating that though the industry is transitioning to a more high-tech and automated one, the need for human capital still exists. Only 18% of miners surveyed will pause hiring and 3.5% will not hire in the year ahead.
06: Ensuring investment keeps pace with new technologies
According to the report, productivity gains of up to 23% are possible through the roll-out of new technologies, but this could be expensive, requiring an injection of A$5 billion to A$13 billion into developing workforce capability. The report also recognised that technology and innovation practices would need to be enhanced to make those gains across industry; a major redesign and reskilling effort is necessary.
05: Miners focus on the 'big 3'
The three technology areas that miners are investing in the most are data analytics, digital connectivity, and integrated automation.
This is not a surprise when you consider the huge push over the last few years towards getting remote mine sites digitally connected to the network as the starting point to allow for other applications and programs to be built and run.
Robust digital architecture is extremely important when it comes to automation and data analytics. Especially the latter, as mine sites generate and capture a significant amount of data.
04: More investment in cloud infrastructure
Miners are now asking themselves how are they going to securely transport this data, where are they going to store it and how are they going to analyse it? We are seeing that many miners want the data to go to their data centre - usually located some distance away in a nearby city - and therefore the right infrastructure is essential to be able to transport and store the data.
The survey expects spend and investment in areas like cloud infrastructure, AI and IoT to increase dramatically over the next few years as miners turn their attention to this next level of technology investment, given that the fundamental infrastructure investment for many companies would have already taken place.
In particular, anticipated investment in technologies like VR/AR and functional digital twins is likely to increase in the coming years.
03: Blending technology and people needs
Focusing on a combination of technology and people has helped improve productivity when it comes to operational automation such as surveying, exploration, blasting and treatment.
The research data also suggests that given the great number of operational staff such as drillers, miners, shot firers, metal fitters and machinists, there is an opportunity to leverage technology and innovation to help these workers achieve higher levels of safety and associated operational efficiencies, whether through automation or other technology enhancements.
Opportunity also lies in the increased need for technology to help with mine planning, data analysis and preventive maintenance.
02: Matching talent to technology
Finding the right people with the right skills, along with retention, are the biggest challenges keeping mining leaders up at night.
Technology is altering human capital at mine sites, with new and modified jobs centred around advanced technologies that require modern skillsets. Another example might include automated drilling rigs that are operated remotely using detailed telemetry and multi-camera vision.
But the industry is struggling to quickly adjust to the acceleration of technology, in terms of finding, developing and harnessing different talent and skills, and talent with deeper knowledge of technology and a sense of adaptability to better acquire new knowledge and capabilities.
01: Using technology to boost safety and compliance
Safety and compliance has been a key focus in mining for decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only raised more health and safety issues.
Fortunately, technological advancements are helping to drive safety and compliance in mines throughout the country. The transition to more automated and technology-enabled mine sites has helped reduce or remove some of the traditional risks of mining, protecting the health and wellbeing of employees, and increasing productivity and efficiency to boot.
By removing human input and establishing a single source of truth for data, organisations can reduce the impact of issues such as double handling and inaccuracies.
The next most common application of technology to lift safety and compliance is in the areas of collision avoidance, real-time fleet/asset tracking and scheduling, employee training or accident tracking and reporting.
Digitally enabled solutions such as sensors, drones and technology-based procedures have helped make it easier and less dangerous for mine workers to operate plant and equipment. For instance, vehicles used in haulage often have built-in alarms and auxiliary safety functions, helping to reduce the likelihood of accidents, and hence injury and deaths.
Eventually, technology could diminish the need for humans to be on-site at all - and hence decrease the possibility of human error. Industry experts expect that the mine of the future will be at least partially digital, with fewer, if any, humans at the coalface.