The increased adoption of autonomous technology and equipment in mining presents both opportunities and challenges for the industry.
While for many, the path to adoption of data, machine learning and automation still seems unclear, METS Ignited is adamant there will be major benefits for companies, individuals and communities if the industry invests in the training and technologies to deliver more-automated mines in Australia.
METS ignited acting chief executive officer Ian Dover, speaking at the 2019 Austmine Conference in Brisbane, says technological change, while not necessarily a burning platform, is a smouldering platform that Australian METS (mining equipment, technology and services) and mining companies must adopt.
In his presentation, Transformative Automation in METS and Mining, Dover emphasises that it’s an exciting time to be in the METS sector given its upturn and growth.
Citing an analysis conducted by economic advisory business, AlphaBeta Advisors, Dover reveals that automation is estimated to deliver $52 billion in value to the mining sector in 2030, lifting total value added by 58 per cent.
“This is what is driving METS Ignited’s view and our focus over the next couple of years,” Dover says. “If we look at the elements of automation it includes operational productivity, capital productivity, access to new resources and also a broader systems impact.”
The economic impact of automation is perhaps the most profound, with Dover highlighting that the benefits will not be confined only to the improved efficiency and productivity of mining companies.
“There’s the secondary impact, which is the supply chain impact, where the METS companies get involved and where the benefit flows in terms of the METS sector and the capabilities of the METS sector,” Dover says.
“Then thirdly, there’s a wider economic impact, which is really the broader supply into the METS sector, which again is supplying into mining.”
However, the fears that jobs will be lost in the industry via the adoption of automation remain. In response to a seemingly omnipresent fear about the impact on jobs that automation will have, Dover remains steadfast.
“Overall economic analysis has suggested that we will transform more jobs and economic benefit over to future work than will be lost due to automation,” he says.
“If we actually invest in this in the way we are expecting, then we will deliver more jobs, many more jobs than we will lose.”
Prospects of grass roots integration and the application of analytics are also being perceived as an area with great potential for the METS sector.
The benefits of analytics extend to a range of mining companies and not just the giants of the industry, as Dover implores the mining community to join together in support of data systems.
“METS companies want to know how to get involved, how do we get the data, how do we use it, how do we analyse it and how do we bring benefits not only to ourselves but to our customers?” Dover says.
“The benefits, in terms of analytics automation and robotics, will also be available to the Tier 2 miners, especially if they pool their money to focus on the challenges that affect them all.
“We are looking to have the mining industry come together and collaborate to address the current key challenges that are existing across many of the companies – most of them exist across the companies, they aren’t challenging one company at a time.”
A sense of urgency seems pervasive surrounding the need for the METS community to get on board.
Dover remains convinced that these technological shifts need to be capitalised on before it’s too late.
“We believe it is an opportunity, it is a smouldering platform, we need to take advantage of this otherwise Australian METS might get left behind in favour of overseas suppliers. There is a danger that if we don’t invest in the digital enhancements in the supply chains that we can get left behind,” he says.
In order to assist in the technological adjustment, Dover discusses the transformative automation initiative, which aims to help METS firms enhance the design of businesses.
“(This is) not just focusing right in on the technology, we are looking at the culture, the business model, the systems, the capabilities for the most effective application of the full suite of analytics and automation technologies that they will deliver in their customers operations,” he says.
In order to achieve this, METS companies are urged to explore a number of key areas, beginning with discovering where mining companies are investing in their operations now and where they will invest in the next 10 years.
This coincides with consolidating what Australia’s capabilities are, including current METS companies that are developing new technology.
Finally, Dover says the Australian METS industry must look at what’s happening abroad, including where the “big money” is being spent by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and therefore avoid going into direct competition with them.
“We know already that we can integrate a lot of the technologies, a lot of the automation that’s occurring now, by those companies,” he says.
“The other thing we can do is capture the economic and job opportunities for Australia from the development of the domestic supply chain capability.”
While recognising the domestic innovation that exists on Australian soil, Dover emphasises that it is just as important to integrate other technology to further enhance their own.
“Yes, Australia has developed some incredible technology, the wireless blasting and also going right back in terms of flotation, but we are also exceptionally good at integrating other people’s technologies and making them work exceptionally well in remote mining operations,” he says.
“That’s part of our DNA, we can use that in terms of integrating technologies that are coming forward now.”
Dover’s encouragement to embrace and get behind automation technology can be described as a “call to action”, but it now seems to be up to the METS and mining industry to respond.
This article also appears in the July edition of Australian Mining.