Mining has become an increasingly precise practice. Modern mines have applications that ship and synthesize data from a variety of sources resulting in accurate mine planning, scheduling, operations and transportation. Data ﬂows in from diggers, grinders, concentra-tors and trucks. In conjunction with data from enterprise systems, miners are able to make sophisti-cated forecasts. They know that a pump will fail in exactly 3 months, a truck’s bearings will need replacement in 2 weeks or an electric rope excavator will stop.
Cognitive computing and predictive analytics together with machine learning technologies are poised to heighten the levels of accuracy and preciseness in operational areas. These are the technologies to put on your must-watch list.
Let’s brieﬂy consider a scenario which mining experts suspect leads to inefﬁciencies and bottlenecks, but unfortunately have little or no control over. This scenario concerns the operators of functioning within the next 5 shifts. It is relatively easy to continue to make improvements around the edges of available data and reap incremental beneﬁts. However, with the technology available today, it is possible to stretch the horizons of intelligent mining beyond the existing paradigm. As an example, cognitive computing and predictive technology can accurately tell us where to dig, how much to dig and where the ore should be shipped for blend-ing in order to meet contracts or take advantage of a sudden spike in prices.
big excavator equipment. These are large and expensive machines – so expensive that mining operations cannot afford to have standby excavators. They need to operate at maximum efﬁciency with minimal downtime. While machine performance data can predict when an excavator is likely to fail, there is no accurate way to measure poor operator performance during a given shift and neutralize it so that production is not affected.
It is entirely possible that an operator is in a portion of the mine where the geology is highly variable and the excavator is loading the incorrect material onto a truck. This is not necessarily a fault of the operator. It is a professional hazard. Is there a way to alert the operator inside the cab and direct the operator’s attention to the correct material? In other words, can we augment the operator’s skill, experience, knowledge and judgment and dial up the levels of performance to absolute maximum?
A peek into the future
As it turns out, we can. A modern mine operation that uses an Artiﬁcial Intelligence platform that can be ‘plugged in” to its total environment can provide digital assistance to the operator. The system inside the cab could listen to the operator using a natural speech algorithm and maps this against actions of the excavator. The system would learn with every action and iteration. The system would also use the vast array of sensors on the equipment to provide real-time feedback and guidance to the operator so that they can adjust their actions and get better performance.
Geological information could be displayed on the cab window as a HUD or a Heads-Up-Display (see Figure 1: Augmenting Operator Skills, Experience and Judgement Using Cognitive and Machine Learning Technology). The simple-to-follow graphic rep-resentation of the mine ensures the operator knows where to dig for maximum efﬁciency.