As a new decade is ushered in for the mining industry, conversations about digitalisation and automation are becoming more prevalent than ever before. Nickolas Zakharia writes.
When developing new gadgets, understanding what works and what doesn’t in the eyes of the consumer is a key factor in successful innovation.
The first smartphone, the IBM Simon, was released in 1994. However, it wasn’t until almost 15-years later that Apple’s iPhone would bring ‘smart’ devices – interactive and autonomous technology that is connected via wireless signals – to the forefront of customer demand.
This is all part of Industry 4.0, which is beginning to transform major industries by breaking new ground in areas such as virtual and autonomous operations.
With that in mind, Hexagon has introduced several suites of digital solutions for conventional mine sites to be revamped into what’s known as a smart mine.
“I’ve always liked the quote from Peter Drucker, ‘You can’t manage what you can’t measure’ and I think by adopting some of these technologies, we are getting more insights and better insights into our businesses,” Hexagon Mining chief technology officer Rob Daw tells Australian Mining.
Hexagon supplies sensor, software and autonomous solutions for major industries across the globe.
Its mining division – Hexagon Mining – offers a range of technologies for mine planning, operations and safety. These solutions not only aim to push mining to its maximum potential, but also save costs in the process.
“Technology has always been vital to the mining industry,” Daw says. “But we’ve probably seen a steady increase in the amount of technology that’s been adopted at various stages within the mining cycle.
“With smart mines and adopting that technology, it gives businesses the opportunity to manage their business in a much different way.”
Sustainability in mining mainly consists of both environmental and economic aspects, according to Daw.
“The more people I talk to, the conversation is around either financial sustainability within your business or environmental sustainability,” he says.
Hexagon’s operations portfolio – HxGN MineOperate – uses a suite of data-centric digital technology to enable machine guidance, semi-autonomous technology and machine and asset health to maintain a fluid and efficient operation.
“I think our operations portfolio is really enabling us to leverage a mine’s optimisation engines and dispatching capabilities,” Daw says. “It also helps the health of our equipment to maximise productivity.”
On the back of its planning and operations portfolios is Hexagon’s safety technologies, which include a suite of digital solutions to prevent accidents and maintain fluid and stable operations for a mine site.
The solutions include MineProtect Personal Alert, which implements time-of-flight technology in personnel rather than just vehicles to keep workers safe from accidents.
“When we look at the operations technologies, the safety technologies – we’re trying to do more with less,” Daw says.
“Our main aim there is ‘Can we reduce emissions? Can we reduce all the ancillary works that go around this by doing these jobs in a more optimal way?’ and I think that helps us drive that sustainability aspect as well.”
For Daw, COVID-19 has brought with it the vitality of autonomous mining due to the benefits that datafication and digital technology can provide to mining companies which may be forced to work remotely.
“It’s going to be interesting what comes out of this from the other side of COVID-19, and what changes are going to be here to stay,” Daw adds.
“COVID-19 has definitely driven us into a more collaborative industry. And I think from a technology front, it’s really showing the value of how we can share this data while dismantling silos within a business.”
This article also appears in the July issue of Australian Mining.