Top 5 Mining Technology Trends for 2021
Updated: Jan 19
Each year we provide our take on what the year ahead holds for the mining technology sector; this year is no different. But first, we’re going to take a quick recap on what we predicted would be the big mining technology trends for 2020.
Reviewing 2020's Mining Technology Trends
Firstly, let’s get the elephant out of the room. We did not, and could not, have predicted a pandemic and the subsequent effect not just on our industry, but also on our entire way of life.
The good news is that with the continued development of vaccination programs, and increased investments by governments around the world to kickstart economies, it seems like 2021 could bring the shot in the arm we’ve all been hoping for - in more ways than one.
So, how do our predictions for last year’s top mining industry trends hold up and what did we get right?
Digital Transformation, Big Data and Autonomous Solutions in the Mining Industry
Last year, we discussed the challenges of digital transformation and Big Data in the mining industry, the increase in uptake of autonomous mining technologies and the need for increased investment in people.
Overall, we think we hit the nail on the head with our predictions. Despite serious progress in all of these areas throughout 2020, many of the same technical and people-focused challenges still remain. However, the early signs are that the COVID-19 pandemic has actually driven increased investment in mining technology...
We are now working with an increasing number of mining companies who are embracing digital solutions, or actively pushing the boundaries of how they can deliver further value for their operations. This step-change in attitude across organisations coupled with extra resources is driving this acceleration.
Business Intelligence in the Mining Industry
We predicted that the role of SAP Business Objects would diminish in 2020 and we have experienced this first-hand. SAP Business Objects comes bundled with Caterpillar MineStar, so this has historically been the natural BI platform choice for many mines.
However, the death of Flash has severely reduced what users can now do. At the same time, companies (in general) have been moving more towards BI solutions such as Tableau and PowerBI for their reporting and data visualisations.
Top 5 Mining Technology Trends for 2021
What do we think 2021 has in store for our industry?
There is absolutely no doubt that the pandemic has really forced many industries to accelerate their digital transformation programs, and many of our predictions are heavily focused on the use of mining technology and data.
However, after a slew of extreme weather events around the world, and growing public awareness putting pressure on manufacturers, we believe there is another theme that will gain increasing significance as we move into 2021 - reducing carbon emissions.
1. Increasing Focus on Achieving Carbon Neutrality in the Mining Industry
Fuel is one of the biggest overheads in mining. Reducing the amount of fuel used, or phasing the use of diesel out completely may take a large initial investment, but could yield huge long-term cost savings to the mining industry.
Newmont Mining recently announced that they aim to achieve a reduction in carbon emissions of 30% by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050.
In the longer term, many mines are laying the (significant investment) foundations for carbon neutrality by moving to battery-electric vehicles, generating power from renewable sources (e.g. PhosAgro, Russia - Hydropower, Pan African Resources, South Africa - Solar, amongst others).
Many mines are also investigating ways to reduce their fuel ‘wastage’ and carbon emissions, through better use of their assets (which we can do fairly quickly by leveraging their existing data). Some mining companies we have recently worked with were quite surprised how much their assets (mechanically) idle compared to what they see in their Time Usage Model “Operating time”.
One example from our own recent projects included the identification of excessive truck idling during operational delays (see the screenshot above).
An action plan and process was put in place and executed with the MTS team (facilitated by dashboards and push notifications). This single initiative resulted in a decrease of 400 idle hours per month, equating to an annual reduction of 145 Tonnes of carbon emissions (and fuel costs!), all whilst maintaining the same level of production output.
We welcome these carbon neutrality initiatives, which we are also striving towards, and we hope that more mining companies consider similar strategies. Not only is it great for the environment, as shown in the example above, it can also help increase operational profitability.
2. Increased Demand for Remote Operations Centres in Mining
The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus around the world continues to have a huge effect on the mining industry as we head into 2021. Thousands of miners and those who work in supporting industries (including consultants and contractors like us!) are still working on projects from home.
With disruption set to continue well into 2021, perhaps the way we work will be changed for good - with decreased travel and increased remote project work. While this will inevitably introduce an extra level of complexity (and some work simply cannot be done remotely), there is an increasing realisation within the industry that some roles can be shifted to remote operations centres.
We have already helped several multinational companies consolidate their teams remotely, helping them develop updated and streamlined processes, and supporting analytics tools and data visualisations.
Although ROCs are nothing new, we believe that there will be a growing demand for suitable mining technology to support these centres over the coming year - which leads us nicely into our next trend for 2021!
3. The Mining Industry Takes the Next Step Towards Big Data - Interoperability
Genuine progress is now being made towards taking Big Data in the mining industry, from being simply a buzzword to becoming a reality. There are (of course!) still many challenges remaining, but we are seeing more and more signs that one of the major hurdles - interoperability - is being taken much more seriously by the OEMs and mining technology providers.
Why? Because as more traditionally ‘field-based’ people have been working remotely during the pandemic, there is a growing realisation that this data is present and incredibly valuable, but also sometimes quite difficult to access and integrate.
Although there is a long way to go, especially with older, established mining technology systems, we hope that the days of distant, unconnected data silos will become a thing of the past. We think that interoperability will become even more important in 2021 as the demand for data continues to grow.
4. Big Tech to Become More Interested in Mining
Tesla and their cobalt requirements were heavily featured in the news in 2020. Indeed Tesla and other big tech companies are under considerable pressure from consumers to ensure that the metals used in their products come from ethical sources.
But what may have slipped under the radar slightly in 2020 is the growing interest from companies such as IBM and Amazon to enter the analytics space in mining. Again, as the demand for data-driven insight increases, so does the amount of infrastructure and investment required to store and maintain this data, and Big Tech is perfectly placed to meet this demand - and their deep pockets are now funding serious amounts of R&D into the mining IoT market.
A company like Amazon could potentially ‘offer it all’ to mines - from data capture, through to communication, processing, and analytics:
Amazon Web Service (AWS) Outpost ‘Cloud’ solutions
AWS cloud-hosted solutions
Could a combination of the above revolutionise the range of options for a remote mine experiencing issues with little to no bandwidth?
5. The Uptake of Cloud-based Solutions in Mining to Accelerate
Investing in a mining fleet management or high-precision machine guidance system and collecting data is one thing. Harvesting the data for use in analytics is something else entirely. We’ve already touched on this in our earlier trends, but this is a topic close to our hearts.
Developing the capabilities to perform predictive analytics, machine learning and AI using big data can take years of cohesive strategy with clearly defined steps and measurable outcomes. Processing billions of rows of fleet management and asset health data for use in advanced analytics can take serious levels of investment in people and infrastructure, so this is where we are increasingly seeing mining companies turn towards cloud-based solutions from Google Big Query to Microsoft Azure.
We are working with several mining companies who are already reaping the value of Big Data through targeted (vs. ‘data hoarding’) applications making use of cloud computing.
One of these companies is accumulating approximately 2 TB worth of data on a monthly basis; all of which is being utilised (and ROI value tracked) through various solutions we have provided.
As a traditionally conservative industry, several years ago this felt like something that would be hard to swallow for mines in the near future - but more and more of our clients are now fully working in, piloting or at least considering taking advantage of the processing power, scalability and enormous capacity of cloud-based solutions. Naturally, we think this is fantastic, and we are very excited about more of the same in 2021!
That’s all for this month's blog. Do you agree with our top 5 mining technology trends for 2021? If you think we missed something out, let us know in the comments below!