Future of mining – digital transformation as a journey

For thousands of years, mining has provided the raw materials needed to develop economies and build communities. But mines are entering a new era that’s requiring them to transform their operations, create new business models and foster a digital culture.

Remaining competitive in today’s minerals market environment means continuously striving for more flexibility and agility in mining management, combining operational excellence and digital innovations.

Three major trends are fundamentally changing how mines will operate in the future: electrification, digitalisation and automation.

Digitalisation

The first major trend is the digitalisation of the mine. Mining companies can’t rely on ageing systems to support their business activities of the future. To remain competitive, mines need to create new operating and business models and foster a digital culture where real-time data of their employees, assets and business performance is not only readily available but provide the opportunity to make changes in real-time from anywhere in the world.

By investing in a clear vision and fostering a cross-functional, enterprise-wide and collaborative approach, mining companies can:

• Reduce capital cost, minimise risk and keep projects on schedule across the entire value chain
• Increase the level of automation, improve quality, move people away from danger and protect the environment
• Enable integration of control and monitoring data from multiple sources
• Guide day-to-day and strategic decisions with real-time and historical data per defined KPIs
• Quickly resolve and predict unwanted situations using advanced algorithms, modelling, analytics, remote expert assistance.

ABB Australia’s head of mining Stuart Cowie reiterated this by saying, “With the need to innovate and future-proof mine operations, it is important to select a partner who understands the industry and how technology can drive actual improvements to operations and the bottom line.

“ABB is a leader in mine electrification, digitalisation and automation around the world. We are constantly exploring and pushing boundaries to seek innovative solutions for our mining customers.”

Assessing, automating, optimising and collaborating are only a few of the values digitally connected products and services can create for the mining industry. ABB unifies and simplifies access to all its digital solutions for mining and mineral processing under the single portfolio – ABB Ability MineOptimize.

With digitalisation at its heart, ABB Ability MineOptimize connects all electrification, automation and digital offerings and creates the backbone for transforming and optimising all stages in the mine lifecycle.

ABB Ability MineOptimize comprises a suite of digitally connected products, services and solutions, which includes state-of-the-art digital technologies for remote services, predictive maintenance tools as well as solutions for upgrades and retrofits. Advanced application libraries, software solutions and digital platforms reduce process complexity, promote safe and secure production and lower lifetime operating costs.

By ensuring that the right people have the right information at the right time and from anywhere, ABB Ability MineOptimize digital applications enable mine operators to maximise reliability, safety, productivity and energy efficiency while optimising planning and visibility across operations and the entire enterprise.

Automation

Another major trend is mine automation, whether that’s finding new ways to increase the production rate of operations, reduce the cost per tonne produced, extend the life span of a site or establish new operations.

There are many technologies readily available to assist mines, from robots and drones, to virtual, augmented and mixed reality and artificial intelligence, to digital twins, 3D and 4D printing. The challenge to companies is not procuring these technologies but integrating them into their operations in a holistic way that is supporting the larger transition to be a mine of the future. By partnering with an experienced leader in the field, it will make piloting, learning, adapting and connecting these different technologies easier, and will help prioritise and embed the right solutions that will drive the biggest impact to a company’s operation.

To achieve higher levels of automation and optimisation in a mine, leveraging advanced process controls across mining processes and business systems is an area that can bring substantial energy savings, increased product recovery and optimise product mix based on real-time data on pricing and other variables.

Mining electrification

The final major trend in driving improvement in operations is the electrification of the mine. Mine operators need to be looking at ways to become more energy efficient, be less diesel dependent, and further their social licence to operate while ensuring operations are safer and more productive.

Electricity transformation is happening at all levels, including fully electric or hybrid electric heavy vehicles and battery energy storage. However, these technologies present many new challenges for mine operators concerning the infrastructure, maintenance and operating constraints. The selection of the right electrical product or solution and its implementation takes experience and technical know-how to ensure a company’s vision and objectives will be met.

Technology partners like ABB can support companies transition towards electrifying their mine. ABB is partnering with many mining companies around the world such as Nouveau Monde Graphite in Quebec where ABB’s technology will see them be the first all-electric surface mine.

ABB is a market leader in mine digitalisation, mine automation, electrification and mine hoists. Companies of all sizes around the globe trust ABB to be their digital transformation partner. For more stories on how ABB shifts the centre of gravity towards mine optimisation and digitalisation, visit ABB’s future of mining site.

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