Mining and technology are intricately entwined, so it’s no surprise that this core economic activity is being improved upon by advances in technology. While mining is still a labour intensive exercise overall, things are changing, and various technologies are being used to mine more efficiently and with less risk underground.
As one of the most prominent mining areas in the world, South Africa is home to many examples of cutting-edge mining technology. But since the global economy relies on minerals from around the globe, it’s worthwhile to get an insight into mining technologies that are being developed in other countries.
To better understand how the local and international mining industry is evolving, here is an overview of just a handful of new technological developments, broken down into four categories:
1. Technology in Mining Increases Operational Efficiency
As in all sectors, the optimal use of data in the mining sector is imperative in a fast-paced and competitive market, and innovative data management platforms are creating better ways to manage, store and make sense of mining data.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning applications are being used to analyse this important data and pick up patterns, which allows for better planning and resource management, like local company Data Prophet’s OMNI product, which uses AI to improve manufacturing processes.
Ava Solutions is another example of a local mining startup that uses data to improve efficiency, through data-driven fleet management, which uses GSM technology and internet access to map and locate all mining equipment, and track usage from one central location.
2. Technology in Mining Reduces Costs
Using innovative satellite and imaging technology, various technology companies offer the ability to source minerals without the need for cost-intensive exploration. This includes a Cornish startup in the UK that is working together with a satellite company to build technology to find lithium deposits.
Imago is another imaging application that allows geologists and other mining personnel to store and share geoscientific images, which also cuts down on the costs of travel and exploration when setting up a mine. Seismic imaging applications like Acoustic Zoom are also being used in a similar way.
When it comes to actually selling the minerals that are mined, there are often limitations on who you can sell to, as this profitable trade has been dominated by key players for a long time. In order to increase profitability and accessibility, a platform called Open Mineral has been established to provide another way of trading mineral concentrates around the world.
3. Technology in the Mining Sector Increases Sustainability
Mining is the foundation of current technological developments, but it is also an environmentally destructive process when not managed properly. To make sure that mines are not making use of toxic chemicals to process minerals, applications like Enviroleach use an environmentally friendly electro-chemical process to extract gold from ores.
Apart from environmental concerns, conflict minerals are also of political concern in today’s economy. Applications like Minespider provide an interestingly use case for blockchain technology, in order to track and make payments to authorised parties involved in the sale of minerals from conflict areas. This ensures that no proceeds from mining sales go towards funding arms, and do not benefit mines where slavery is a part of operations.
4. Technology in the Mining Sector Ensures Safety
Safety underground is a massive and ongoing concern, especially as mines continue to need to dig deeper to access valuable ore bodies.
Thankfully, the days of using canaries to test air quality are long gone, and there are now a variety of advanced monitoring technologies that can assess air quality, as well as the risk of fire and explosion (as even just a tiny spark underground can lead to a blaze that quickly gets out of control).
Planning is a huge part of making sure that miners are safe underground, and this is where innovative developments in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are playing a key role. In particular, LlamaZoo has created an application called MineLife VR, which brings together fragmented data sources into a centralised platform, and allows all mine stakeholders an accurate view of a mine through VR technology, and plan for safety concerns accordingly.
Other developments in the underground safety arena are robotics and driverless vehicles, which can go deeper underground and stay there for longer, and take away the need for many people to work long shifts in the heat.
Advances in remote communication systems also contribute to a safer underground working environment, with applications like Cribber, which provides a central dashboard for communicating with staff, as well as user friendly tools for managing compliance.
What is the future of mining?
As in other sector of business, mining is having to shift and adapt to global changes. But with a variety of exciting new developments, the mining industry can move from being an environmentally and socially exploitative industry to one that is high tech and data-driven, and makes the most of the limited supply of precious minerals that can still be mined from the earth.
SovTech works with a variety of companies to build innovative technologies that will increase profitability and productivity across industries. Get in touch with us to find out what kinds of applications we could develop to assist your business growth.