While mining is lagging other sectors in its adoption of new technology it can afford to be bolder – as the returns on innovation are starting to be seen across other sectors, bringing greater confidence to ‘fastest followers’. The World Economic Forum has calculated that the economic impact alone from digital transformation for the mining sector could be between $428bn to $784bn for the period 2016-2025. So, the potential gains are significant enough to attract senior level support to think longer term when it comes to innovation, and there has been some significant progress in mining businesses taking a digital-first approach.
A stunning example of innovation in the sector is the Rio Tinto Mine of the Future – set up in 2008. The initiative has resulted in the deployment of several automated systems – Rio Tinto operates the largest fleet of automated haulage trucks in the world, and has developed an automated long distance railway system – both of which have increased transport efficiency while reducing cost and waste. The automated trucks have already saved approximately 40,000 litres of fuel every year, and reduced haul and load operating costs by approximately 13 per cent. The company has also trialled an automated drilling system, making it easier and safer to operate mines.
Other examples of where IoT-based solutions can be pivotal is in the development of automated exploration drones, enabling a more accurate assessment of territory before drilling begins. Precision readings mean wasting less energy and resources when trying to access ore for extraction.