The global resources industry is a constantly evolving beast, and it is now entering a new age of technological development.
Mining is currently seeing the start of what will be the great convergence of IT and operational technologies.
Many observers have touted it as the foundation for the industry’s next technological step change, which will be focused on an effort to facilitate productivity gains, efficiency and safety.
A study by consultancy firm McKinsey showed that multi-factor productivity was growing up until 2005; but it dropped 0.7 per cent per year until 2011, when the study was carried out.
A report by the Mineral Council of Australia also highlighted that the mining industry last delivered a productivity increase in 2003, but since then overall productivity in the minerals sector has fallen by 30 per cent.
Late last year IBM, as part of its Smarter Planet initiative signalled that the industry is reaching the tipping point for productivity and must innovate.
“This right now is the tipping point, we believe, where the risk of inaction outweighs the risk of action,” Andrew Stevens, IBM Australia and New Zealand’s managing director, said.
Philip Kirchlechner who has spent years working in the iron ore game said that the move to automation was the only way for Australian miners to remain competitive in the world market.
“We have to do things smarter, we have to use technology to raise productivity, and that’s going to touch on a whole spectrum of mining,” he said.
“All the way from finding the new mines, processing better, mining more efficiently.”
Tim Day has been in charge of rolling out BHP’s automation program at its brand new Jimblebar mine in the Pilbara.
He says there are several drivers for the change.
“The single biggest reason is safety,” Mr Day said.
“On a mine site, one of the issues we have is that we expose operators to machinery for long periods of time. We have fatigue issues, so it takes our people away from the front line.”
The dangers of mining are all too real.
A recent Department of Mines study analysed the deaths of 52 miners over the past 12 years, finding worker fatigue and inexperience with mining risks to be the biggest cause of accidents.
Flicking the Switch
It is a critical time for miners as the investment cycle switches from capital expenditure to capital efficiency.
“What the leaders will do is invest heavily in new technology to integrate the front, middle and back office; much more remote control from remote operations, and looking across the entire supply chain, integrating not just simply pit-to-port, but pit-to-customer.”
According to Deloitte miners need to go beyond traditional cost cutting measures and re-evaluate their entire operational models, cost structures and company culture that became ingrained during the boom.
The firm explained that implementing new technology including automation, using analytics and big data processes to identify trends for greater productivity , rationalising supply chains through six sigma processes, right sizing capital projects and transitioning to modular plants and projects are all strategies which can drive continuous improvements.
This merging of automation technology and computer hardware in to existing processes is increasing mobility on and off site in regards to information and operational control, and giving miners a sharper edge
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