Call Us: 1300 568 888

Technology is Changing Australia’s Mining Jobs

The Australian mining sector is going through a revolution because of technology. A report commissioned by the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) found that over the next 5 years more than 77 percent of the country’s mining jobs will be affected by technological innovations. These innovations are expected to increase productivity by up to 23 percent.

MCA CEO Tania Constable claims that Australia’s education and training system require the largest transformation. She anticipates a modernised structure to offer “enhanced movement between universities and vocational education sectors,” combining traditional mining skills with “the latest scientific, technical and trade skills” including data analytics, change management and computing. Future educational degrees will focus more on creativity, collaboration and social sciences to respond to changing expectations which will offer students higher education certifications and fit-for-purpose degrees.

Sam Spearing, director of the WA School of Mines Kalgoorlie says that “life-long learning will be essential” in the new high-tech landscape. According to Spearing, the post-secondary school sector will see the greatest impact due to the “need for seamless educational pathways from school through the TAFE and into Universities. The tertiary education system wants to keep ahead,” Spearing says. “I don’t think there are downsides, but some of the workforce will need to be upskilled and supported by the employers whilst this is being done.”

New Technology Opens Up Exploration

Currently, exploration design is hindered by the fact that it is based on static and retrospective methods without much adjustment made during drilling. But new tech such as 3D mapping, geo-spatial data and hyperspectral core imaging allows material drilled to be monitored continuously. New high-tech tools such as autonomous drills allow for new exploration methods to adapt as they respond to data collected. Some companies are already using this technology including Rio Tinto using the 3D mapping technology, and BHP using downhole assay.

Streamlined Ops with Drones and Digital Twins

Poorly run processing plants can become huge drawbacks in mining operations. Some obstacles facing a streamlined system include breakdowns, poor scheduling and depleting high-grade ore deposits. Integrating tools including drones, digital twins and ore-sorting technologies help to improve product quality and efficiency. Ore-sorting tech works to separate valuable material from waste, reducing the amount of material requiring processing. An Integrated Operating Centre (IOC) provides a means to better manage feed presentation, shift maintenance strategies from reactive to predictive, and optimise plant operations.

End-to-End Transparency with Trading

Consumers are more aware than ever of the ethical issues facing mineral supply chains, increasing demand for transparency in the processing and sourcing of materials. New blockchain technology offers an efficient means of tracing metals from extraction to processing with full transparency for everyone. One company, DeBeers, has developed a blockchain called Tracr, to track the progress of their diamonds and create a digital trail for each physical diamond. This program helps establish trust in a new way to the industry, which demonstrates how technology can overcome challenges of compliance and authenticity.

The Tracr team says the technology “ensures immutable end-to-end traceability,” while allowing users to maintain full control of their own data.”Blockchain allows the automatic detection of fraud, reducing instances of round-tripping and double-financing. The increased visibility and trust will facilitate access to financing and potentially improved interest rates, while a decreased reliance on email and paperwork will cut operating costs and improve efficiency.”

Tracr is currently a B2B platform, but is anticipating B2C applications to be developed in response to consumer requirements.

Reduced Stoppages with Autonomy

Transport systems are currently susceptible to human error or delays, and vehicles can breakdown causing even more costly problems with downstream operations. However, technology can help with this issue, too. Broken rail detection and digital twins make predictive maintenance help catch problems before they cause significant issues further down the line. Autonomous vehicles allow operators the liberty of working off-site, removing the requirement for operator-induced stoppages. Rio Tinto is using autonomous trains in 2017, subsequently reporting improvements in safety as well as a reduction of cycle time and bottlenecks. Introducing this technology could lead to improvements of 20 percent in asset operating time, and between 3 percent and 15 percent improvement in overall productivity.

Artificial Intelligence for Optimal Planning

Optimisation of scheduling and planning can be achieved through IOCs and digital twins, allowing various schedules to be tried out with workers selecting the optimal planning route for increased productivity. Australia BHP uses artificial intelligence (AI) to schedule track movements and the dispatch of trains carrying iron ore between their mines and Port Hedland. Thus far this technology has helped BHP to manage stockpiles and ensure deliveries are on time and correct.

Avoiding Danger with Electric Mines

New technology has already brought significant progress to mining safety. Underground mines can be hazardous due to falling rock, poor ventilation and possible exposure to heat and gas. Electric vehicles have already brought improvement to workers’ safety because they are no longer exposed to carcinogenic Diesel Particulate Matter (from gas-run vehicles). A Canadian company, Goldcorp is currently working on constructing a fully-electric mine with battery-operated drills, electric bottlers and electric haul trucks. They estimate that the operation will eliminate two million litres of diesel per year while reducing greenhouse gases by 70 percent.