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27 April 2018

Developing digital mines of the future

Between 2012 and 2016, the global mining industry found itself in a battle with market economics. Falling commodity prices, slowing demand from China and a resulting market oversupply forced miners to cut costs, rebuild balance sheets and spend 2017 refocusing business strategy. 

But this financial rationalisation triggered a new technology cycle as companies sought to improve efficiency and make savings through new innovations. 

“We have seen mining companies and their employees optimise mills, manage flowsheets, grade profiles and analyse exploration results long before these methods were labelled ‘big data’,” says Evy Hambro, manager of the BlackRock World Mining Trust. “However, the processing power available today should enable this to be done more efficiently than ever before.” 

With economic conditions looking more favourable for miners, there is renewed appetite for growth, encouraging mining groups to be far more ambitious with their technological aspirations in the years ahead. 

“Different sectors in the mining industry have faced cost pressures in recent years,” explains Guy Turner, director of management consulting group Partners in Performance. “That forced a bunch of tactical cost-reductions. As the profits come back, businesses are saying ‘how do we enable the people that we have with technology?’” 

Mr Turner stresses that technological adoption varies by region, but notes the largest mining companies have made significant capital investments in robotics, autonomous vehicles, drones for stock pile measurement and embraced a host of wearable technologies to enhance safety. 

“Corporate strategy has reacted to an economic cycle in mining that originally said reduce your costs quickly. Now we are in happier times, we can grow and build businesses, and this is being done through technology,” he says. “Innovation is happening in every dimension, whether the focus is on safety, quality measurement, automation, use of predictive data or adoption of digital solutions.” 

As mining companies become more ambitious with their capital investments, the difficulty for management teams is prioritising those technologies with the potential for the biggest impact. 

-- This article was originally published on

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