Impacts of Technology on Mining Operations

Impacts of Technology on Mining Operations
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Traditionally, the mining sector was considered one of the most labour-intensive industries. However, today we are experiencing a different narrative. Throughout the 20th and 21st century, technological innovations have revolutionized the industry in numerous ways. In particular, there is increased automation, the use of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, and general digitization of the processes involved. Although the improved and utilization of the new technologies create a massive positive impact in the mining industry; challenges still exist in mitigating the negative results of implementing the latest technologies. Experts in the industry have mentioned numerous benefits of technological advancement in the sector; some of them discussed below.

Increased productivity

Remote machinery operation in coal mining

Automation of processes in mines results in increased productivity. In the past, every mining process such as blasting, haulage, among others depended on the presence of engineers and technicians to operate the machines. This means that human error and other factors such as turnover rates, unskilled staff e.t.c decrease the overall production. However, automating processes in the mines means that the human factors are eliminated. The machines are therefore able to work for 24hrs with little human labour. The only thing that will affect the machines is mandatory downtimes such as repairs and servicing. Nonetheless, automation increases productivity by more than 30% as compared to human-centred operations.

Enhanced Mine Safety

Remote controlled LHD machine in underground machine

On a different note, utilizing automation means that the engineers are not be required in the mines resulting in decreased numbers of fatalities and injuries within the mines. The companies can remove the workers from dangerous mining conditions, increasing efficiency, particularly those in remote areas. It is possible to mine in harsh and dangerous underground conditions using machines operated from a control centre located in a safe place. According to an article by the Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Forum on mining, minerals, metals and sustainable development, Matthew Bliss, automation and use of sensors in mining save more than 1000 lives and 45,000 people avoid injuries during the mining activities every year.

Reduced Cost of Production

Today, more companies find it easy to use the new technology as they are becoming cheaper. As a result, the industry players access opportunities to reduce the cost of production and increase efficiency in their processes. This helps them withstand the volatile commodity markets. The companies that have implemented the various new technologies in the market, such as the use of sensors, drones, and automated trucks and other machines, have proven that they are commercially viable. Automation reduces production costs and increases efficiency and productivity.

Resultant Challenges

A mining control center

Increased use of technology results in a reduced number of professionals needed in the field. For example, automation of haulage process in the mines means that drivers are no longer required. Majority of unskilled workforce will be rendered jobless as automation takes over. The underpinning social license that mining companies operate under continues to be strained. The issue is to ensure that both the companies and communities affected find a balance of sharing the value resulting from the mining activities. Although labour pressures are reduced, mainly due to automation, there should be strategies to ensure lives of local communities depending on mining activities are not negatively affected.

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About the Author

Eng. Lemaiyan Lemein

Lemaiyan Lemein is an experienced Mining Engineer and a passionate tech writer who focuses on the mining industry especially about technological innovations, machine learning, and artificial intelligence within the extractive sector. His passion for new technologies and their applications in the mining sector continues to inspire him to share vital information to the interested stakeholders in the sector. Coupled with both hands-on experience and the love for research and writing, Lemaiyan uses his expertise as a freelance writer to research and create content for numerous professionals. He strongly believes that applying new mining technologies is fundamental not only to reduce the carbon footprint but also increase efficiency and productivity. Moreover, he considers that communities play a fundamental role in ensuring mining companies comply with environmental policies within their locality.

Apart from work, Lemaiyan is an avid community development advocate who focuses on the most vulnerable in the society (children with disabilities). He is currently the Founder and Chairperson of The Visionaries1254 Foundation. Lemaiyan holds a Bachelor of Science in Mining and Mineral Processing Engineering from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and is an Associate Member; International Association of Engineers (IAENG). He is also an ambassador at The TOP KE – An International Business, Politics, and NGO Magazine and a Global Initiative with HUB

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