For an industry that has traditionally been conservative in its approach to new technologies, it is heartening to see the mining industry begin to embrace digital technologies and systems. Mining companies are increasingly turning to digital technologies when seeking to streamline their business models and capture reliable data and safety solutions that can then be utilized on the ground.
However, the transformation to a digital mining enterprise will not be easy. There will be many challenges, since it will disrupt the traditional business models and cultures that have been established over many decades of experience. To make the transformation successful, these solutions cannot simply be deployed by the IT department in isolation; the core business needs to discuss and understand the implications of this revolution. The 'digital mine' must force a rethink on the entire mining operation and management approach. The operating model of mining has not changed significantly in many years; so, the change to a 'digital mine' must be viewed as an organizational step change.
What digital solutions are currently available to the mining industry? Firstly, with the increasing focus on human safety, any automated solution or device that removes humans from the mine face and eliminates danger from direct contact with the mining activity, is definitely a focus. Mining companies are showing keen interest in 'Personnel Safety and Security Systems' that can be monitored and managed remotely. These systems integrate card access, CCTV, vehicle tracking and real-time personnel location tracking systems, allowing a mining company to control, monitor and communicate with onsite personnel. In the event of a mine collapse, communications allow personnel to activate 'man down' alarms, and for companies to quickly report on who is safe and who was in the mine at the time of collapse. Real-time communications allows messages to be sent out, alerting everyone to the incident and advising them of action required.
Other digital solutions include the creation of a 'Collaborative Decision Environment', a facility that enables an integrated view of the mine plan and operations, leading to early identification and rectification of any bottlenecks across the value chain. In addition, mining companies are embracing the benefits of ERP systems, integrating them with their mining execution systems, as well as leveraging proven solutions from industries such as oil and gas which have been at the forefront of deploying remote operations centers.
Recent advances mean that IT services and solutions for the mining industry are increasingly viable, and we are beginning to see the 'digital mine' become a reality. Mining companies will seek to add value by converting data into meaningful information and will seek to increase productivity by automating the actions required as a result of the meaningful information. I envisage that such companies will be at the forefront of the digital mining enterprise and they will quickly capture market share and dominate.