Advancements in Mining Technology

An open mine.

Innovations in technology have transformed mining. Once an industry where workers once dug by hand, we now use autonomous vehicles to explore deep tunnels and robotics to control multiple drill rigs at once.

Technology in the mining industry is being used to make mines safer, cleaner and more efficient. With the demand for resources continuing, the innovation remains high. In Australia, the Mining Equipment Technology Services (METS) industry contributes $90 billion annually to the economy, solving problems across the supply chain from exploration to mining consumables, as well as professional services like engineering, software and mining equipment. 

Here we take a look at how advancements in mining technology are helping the sector. 

Technology used in mining to bolster productivity

From the very first hand-carved mining tools to modern automated drilling and boring machines, technology has been an important part of the mining process. In the past few centuries, demands for the resources reaped from mining have increased dramatically, from the fuels we use to create heat and electricity to the raw materials we build with. As demand for these resources has grown, so has the demands on the mining sector. 

Mining booms have helped fuel innovation in mining to help improve productivity as well as efficiency and technological improvements have also given rise to demands for better environmental outcomes. Technology is also helping the mining industry to explore and extract different minerals and to safely and efficiently mine in areas where it may not have previously been feasible to do so. 

Today, technology is used in all areas of the mining process. Examples include: 

  • Autonomous trucks  
  • Automated drilling and boring 
  • Slope stability monitoring
  • Sensors to detect equipment maintenance requirements and mine monitoring 
  • Automated ventilation systems 
  • 3D modelling 
  • Drone technology 
  • Artificial intelligence 
  • Geographic information systems 
  • Robotics 

Technology has also done more than increase productivity to meet growing demands. It has also played an important role in mine safety.

    Mine safety technology

     Like all industrial processes, mining has some inherent risks. From injury via equipment, to possible fire or poisonous gas exposure, to potential collapse in underground workings, there are many dangers on a mine site to be aware of and addressed. Technology is helping to reduce those risks. Such innovations include real-time sensors, improved underground communication, using automated vehicles in deep shafts instead of people, data analytics, as well as sophisticated mine modelling software to better understand the mine environment.

    Technology has been the key to improving mining safety for decades. The introduction of the Davy’s miner’s safety lamp in 1815 had an immediate impact on mining fatalities. In methane-rich environments, miners could safely light the lamp without igniting an explosion.

    While much of the essential equipment in use today is similar in nature to the mining equipment used 100 years ago, much has changed in its design and use. The trucks, shovels and drills used today are much larger, powered by electricity and constructed from stronger materials. The introduction of the computers and the internet has also radically changed the industry.

    There have also been a number of major technological advancements that have led to higher productivity, better safety for workers and improved environmental protection. These include the use of ammonium-nitrate explosives, millisecond delays in blast ignition, global positioning system technology, rock bolts and safety couplers on mine cars.

    Improvements and innovations in technology have helped reduce the fatality rate in mining in Australia by 65%, dropping from 12.4 worker fatalities per 100 000 workers in 2003, to 4.4 in 2015.

    Advanced mining technologies 

    Today, mining companies are not only under pressure to perform more efficiently, but also more sustainably and safely too. They are turning to technology to help advance some of the problems facing the industry. These challenges include the ability to discover mineral deposits deep underground, which is something the industry expects will improve as computers become more powerful and data becomes better used. 

    It is also expected that the industry will have to rely on technological advancements to improve exploration and extraction processes to keep up with demand. The International Council on Mining and Metals is looking to technology to deliver safer and cleaner vehicles, from collision-avoidance technology to zero-emissions solutions, with the intention to significantly reduce mining tailings or the liquid slurry that’s often a mining byproduct.

    Advanced mining technologies are continuing to be developed using advances in robotics, computing and data analysis, artificial intelligence and drone technology.

    The sustainable future of mining technology 

    Mining technology has an exciting future with many challenges ahead to make the industry more efficient, safe and sustainable while meeting increasing global demand for resources and new minerals. Robotics, artificial intelligence, radar and drone technology are increasingly being used to develop solutions to improve mining operations. 

    Making mining operations more sustainable is a key priority for the industry; one it is relying on technology to help solve. Many mining sites use fossil fuels to power their operations, but there are companies who are trialing the use of hybrid diesel/electric or fully electric vehicles and machinery. Others are also experimenting with renewable energy to power their mine sites.  

    Furthermore, the use of technology such as remote sensing tools, including drones and satellites, can help to reduce the environmental impact of a mine site and also help to better monitor the surrounding ecosystem. The industry is also under pressure to find innovative solutions to solve the environmental problems of mining waste, reducing pollution risks and water usage.

    Sustainability is often intertwined with safety and productivity. If you have the technology to accurately judge if the site is safe enough for operations to commence, you can get things done efficiently with as few resources possible. If you know the site is not safe, you can easily stop the operation before it starts, protecting your workers and your resources.

    That’s why GeoLidar is the missing piece in your operations. Not only can it detect ground deformation and subsidence, but its advanced AI can filter out workers, vehicles, and other things that might muddy the data of similar lidar technologies. That way, you can keep a keen eye on your environment, your impact, and the safety of your workers, while also working as efficiently as ever.

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    GeoLidar is an Australian-made, patent-pending innovation from customer-led research and development house Geobotica.  

    Brisbane-based Geobotica works with industry partners to develop world-leading sensors, software and AI solutions for industry. 

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