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Mining: Top 5 Digital Innovations for next Wave of Productivity (part 1- Machine Learning)

Introduction
Despite facing the slowdowns and global commodity cyclicity, India is a fast-growing
economy and demand for minerals remains robust in the country. While mining is often
criticized as an industry where innovation and technological changes are resisted and
implemented very slowly, the industry is looking at adapting international levels of
technology with latest innovations, with a far higher focus. Historically mining is considered
to be technically conservative and risk averse, often a bit less aligned with the technological
innovations that could significantly impact the industry. The mining industry still conducts its
business in mostly the same way as it always has. While mining machinery have become
larger, equipment are now more sophisticated, but many mining operations today would be
very similar to what it was years ago.
The mining industry is going through an intense period of change and the ability to innovate
and improve is becoming indispensable. While the boom and recession are a feature of the
mining industry, the response of the industry had been primarily around maximizing volume
while continuing with inherent efficiencies in operations during boom phase, while cost-
reduction initiatives takes the centre stage during the downturn. It is now being believed
that true innovation will drive the next wave of productivity gains and financial growth.
Emerging technologies are set to change the way miners operate over the next decade and
help them evolve with newer business models. Delivering improved productivity, cost
savings, and safety advancements, these technologies could drive economic
transformation in the industry in coming years and also help in becoming competitive
globally. We discuss few of these technology trends and the specific impact it could bring
about in the mining industry in the subsequent sections.
Machine Learning or Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence or AI, as it is commonly called, is an area of computer science that
emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. Some of
the activities computers with artificial intelligence are designed for include speech
recognition, visual perception, translation between languages and decision making, which
normally require human intelligence. AI trend has become quite common with AI being
used to power voice activated personal assistants like Siri of Apple and Alexa of Amazon,
self-driving cars or helping doctors in the treatment of their patients. The AI wave is now
making a mark in the mining industry as well. Machine learning algorithms are considered
the next step for digital mine transformation. Mining companies have also been working to
identify and unlock potentially advanced AI use cases, which can ‘Uberize’ the mining
industry.
In the prospecting and exploration stage, machine learning can be used to answer the
questions ‘where to explore’ and ‘what lies under the ground’. It can help automatically
identify rock faces using well logging data and help in classifying the rock and soil classes
using remote sensing data. Using satellite imagery, aerial photography, geophysical maps,
drone based monitoring, machine learning can help predict mineral prospectivity or the
locations of potential ores. Using previous core drill data, soil samples, mine site surveying
data, machine learning can predict targets for drilling. Instruments installed onto drill rigs
can provide real-time, automated data accelerating timelines for multiple mining stages and
decision making intelligence. Tracking system and devices with wireless communication
can monitor ecological parameters like ground water, change in temperature, subterranean
ventilation to assess the impact of mining activities which can lead to more eco-friendly
operations. Machine learning based predictive algorithm can warn operators and
maintenance crew of downtime in critical equipment or probability of pressure spike in
pump, hours in advance. Another example of machine learning AI application is in
assessing of ore fragmentation in underground and open-pit mines, in less than a minute
as compared to hours of manual processing by geotechnical engineers.
Mining operations could have severe impact on the environment and the people and other
habitat in the neighbouring region to the mine. One of the key concerns of any miner is how
to ensure sustainable operations by protecting the environment and rehabilitate the land.
Use of remote sensing technologies like satellite imagery can help monitor any
environmental changes and predict changes in erosion, wild life habitats, topsoil
redistribution and vegetation. Machine learning techniques can also analyse the risk
associated with mine sludge deposits and thus help mitigate the environmental risk
associated with mining operations.
The application of robotic technology has far reaching potential for the mining industry.
Robotic devices powered by artificial intelligence can perform a range of tasks including
drilling, blasting, loading, hauling, ore sampling and as well as rescuing trapped miners.
Autonomous load haul dump vehicles using robotic technology are already being used by
Rio Tinto in its underground diamond mine in Western Australia. At Rio Tinto’s Cape
Lambert port, robots are used for iron ore sampling to ensure that the iron ore product
meets the required specifications. The robots work in an enclosed area in the iron ore
sample station and are surrounded by numerous devices including in-feed and out-feed
conveyors, bucket and tray storage racks, ovens, and weigh scales. Automated and tele-
operated drilling can ensure mining personnel safety and improve efficiency during surface
drilling operations. The technology allows the operator to carry out drilling from a remote
location without entering hazardous areas. Real-time video and data communication
including all drilling controls and equipment status are displayed continuously on screens at
the operator centre. Mining companies are progressively adopting robotics to stay at the
forefront of mining technology. With the huge volume of data being generated at mine sites,
these machine-learning examples are only the start of significant value to be derived from
machine learning AI. BHP Billitons copper gold mines in Canada uses a number of drilling
machines that are partially or fully automated. Another example is Newcrest mining in
Australia exploiting machine learning for use in autoclaves (type of chemical reactor).
Overall AI and Machine learning algorithms are considered today as the next step of digital
mine transformation. The deployment has become simpler and could be done using edge
and cloud computing.

Introduction
Despite facing the slowdowns and global commodity cyclicity, India is a fast-growing
economy and demand for minerals remains robust in the country. While mining is often
criticized as an industry where innovation and technological changes are resisted and
implemented very slowly, the industry is looking at adapting international levels of
technology with latest innovations, with a far higher focus. Historically mining is considered
to be technically conservative and risk averse, often a bit less aligned with the technological
innovations that could significantly impact the industry. The mining industry still conducts its
business in mostly the same way as it always has. While mining machinery have become
larger, equipment are now more sophisticated, but many mining operations today would be
very similar to what it was years ago.
The mining industry is going through an intense period of change and the ability to innovate
and improve is becoming indispensable. While the boom and recession are a feature of the
mining industry, the response of the industry had been primarily around maximizing volume
while continuing with inherent efficiencies in operations during boom phase, while cost-
reduction initiatives takes the centre stage during the downturn. It is now being believed
that true innovation will drive the next wave of productivity gains and financial growth.
Emerging technologies are set to change the way miners operate over the next decade and
help them evolve with newer business models. Delivering improved productivity, cost
savings, and safety advancements, these technologies could drive economic
transformation in the industry in coming years and also help in becoming competitive
globally. We discuss few of these technology trends and the specific impact it could bring
about in the mining industry in the subsequent sections.
Internet of Things
Internet of Things (IoT) is the connection of objects such as computing machines,
embedded devices, equipment, appliances, and sensors to the Internet. This emerging
network technology can potentially transform the mining industry by creating new ways of
maintaining mine safety and productivity. The technology involves connecting equipment,
fleet and people based on radio frequency identification device (RFID) and sensor
technologies while allowing them to automatically transfer and receive data over a network
without requiring human intervention. The IoT platform can not only improve traceability
and visibility of the entire mining operations but also automate and redefine the
maintenance and operation of machines. It could help build newer collaboration models
with OEM’s for monitoring via cloud connectivity and networks, enable advanced
maintenance process and newer business models. This could lead to a lot of
standardization in the space of OEM, operators and service providers while helping with
newer automated and highly agile process at the operations level. For mining companies,
the key performance indicators is asset uptime. Hence, prevention of equipment failure
becomes crucial where the concept of IoT can play a major role. Sensors can detect the
status of the equipment (like temperature, pressure, vibrations, speed) wherever it is and
using the data that is collected from the M2M sensor along with other data collected such
as maintenance history and external sources such as weather for the region, predictive
analytics can use models to predict failures before they occur. So the spare parts could be
ordered at the right time without requiring expensive express shipping that is spent when
equipment fails without warning. This is leading to an inherent shift from routine preventive
to predictive maintenance with ability to react at the right time but well in advance.
Another application of IoT technology is the remote operation and monitoring of mines. The
adoption of centralized systems for operating, monitoring and controlling the mining or the
processing activities from a remote location has been embraced by mining companies
across the world. Such remote monitoring of operations ensures maximum efficiency,
improved safety, decreased variability and better identification of performance issues.
Mining majors like Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton have set up their integrated remote
operations centre in Perth for monitoring operations in iron ore mines of Pilbara, about
1500 kms away. Rio Tinto also opened a processing excellence centre in Brisbane to
monitor and analyse the processing data in real time from seven of its operations in
Mongolia, United States and Australia with the help of huge interactive screens. A team of
experts in mineral processing suggest different solutions for optimizing mineral processing
at these seven sites.
One of the most rapidly growing application for the IoT is in heavy equipment used in
mining. Mining equipment and vehicles are usually enormous and powerful and are some
of the largest machines in the world. A person near or on the path of these vehicles could
lead to fatal accidents. One of the key goals of IoT in these environments is improving
people and equipment safety. To prevent accidents, heavy equipment often incorporates
location/proximity sensors and warning technology, such as GPS, radar, video and RF
locating devices (on both personnel and equipment) to ensure the safety of construction
and mining. Mine automation system, which integrates all the automated physical
elements, creates real-time multi-dimensional models from a variety of data sources
including the sensors on equipment as well as geological and other data. The system can
then be used to optimize the mine’s layout, operation, vehicle paths and so on, co-
ordinating all the moving pieces for the most efficient operation. Visualization tools can
provide 3D displays of the mine and other related data for use by pit controllers, geologists,
drilling and blasting teams, mine planners and supervisors.
Mining vehicles have inbuilt sensors to measures things like oil temperature, levels,
contamination, tyre pressures, bearing rotation, vibrations, frame rack, bias and pitch
(affected by load and road conditions), engine speed, brake pressure etc. These data are
all transmitted remotely to monitoring centres that can be alerted to potential trouble before
it actually takes place. Instead of going for regularly scheduled maintenance (e.g. every
1,000 hours of operation), a predictive model based on sensor data can recommend when
maintenance should be performed.
IoT is changing the mining industry. It is making it safer, more efficient and more
automated. It is making mining jobs more high tech and allowing people to work remotely,
with fewer and fewer workers at the mine site. The benefits could be summarized into
process level time savings, safety performance, automation advances, predictive
maintenance and cost benefits related to energy and high value consumptions. The IoT led
journey towards business transformation in mining has just begun.

Big Data Analytics


‘Big data’ could be defined as very large and complex data sets which traditional data
processing applications are not able to meaningfully process. Source of big data could be
multiple – machine data captured by sensors, email, social media contents, web server
logs, and call data records etc. Big data analytics is thus the analytical capability which
makes it possible to examine large data sets to uncover hidden patterns, unknown
correlations, customer preferences and other useful information. There is large amount of
big data getting generated in mining operations and this could impact almost all aspects of
mining operations. Big data could be put to use in extraction and processing of ore with an
objective of improving efficiency. The complicated processes specially running in mining
and processing plants with multiple sensor and L1/L2 automation data can be analyzed to
establish input and output correlations of process parameters leading to improved quality
and reduced costs. Apart from this, accurate big data analysis can help speed up the mine
feasibility stages with fewer critical mistakes made, which can help prevent cost overruns
due to too little and incorrect information available at the feasibility stage.
Procurement, is critical for mining companies as it involves planning of spares and services
for equipment that operate in remote places globally. The downtime of such vehicles and
excavators could have significant financial impact in case of spare or services not being
available at right time. Mining companies typically deal with several thousand suppliers and
hundreds of thousands of spare parts, generating huge volume of data. Without data-driven
systems, companies struggle to ensure right information about their current and future
needs of spares and services as well as optimizing inventory of such spares parts. Big data
analytics could help better negotiation of prices, do better spend analytics and reduce
overall procurement costs.
Another usage for data analytics is in providing safety of the miners. The big data
technology could help capture operational, people and sensor data and provides actionable
insights based on real-time monitoring of people in mines (location, heart rate,
temperature), environment (gas concentration, CO, coal dust, wind speed) and equipment
(power, operating pressure, speed) The analysis can help identify risks such as a tunnel
collapse or incidents of near misses. With real-time insights and advanced decision
making, based on pre-defined safety thresholds and warning alerts, big data analytics can
help reduce casualties with optimized evacuation management and thus ensure safer
mining operations.
Advanced analytics and big data platforms are leading to breakthroughs in business
process efficiency. Some recent reports also noted that powerful data driven analytics can
also help to solve previously unsolvable and even unknown problems that undermine
efficiency in complex environments. Big data used to look like a buzz word but is rapidly
moving to mainstream as its importance for process optimization and business value is on
the rise.
Look for Part 3 soon on 3D printing, Blockchain and Digital Core in mining.
Mining: Top 5 Digital Innovations for next Wave of
Productivity (part 3- 3D, Blockchain)

3D Printing in Mining
A decline in mining productivity over the past years has meant that industry leaders are
forced to look into newer methods and technology for efficiency and cost. 3-D printing
(3DP) is the process of making physical objects from a digital model using a printer.
Although still in the developmental stages, the technology is already presenting
opportunities in new areas, such as in the custom manufacture of prosthetics, dental
products and other medical devices or precision automotive and aerospace parts. 3DP has
the potential to revolutionize supply chains by impacting the manufacturing location
strategies, shrinking delivery lead times and removing excess stock and complexity from
the supply chain.

Mines mostly operate in remote and hostile environments, with logistical challenges in
ensuring a smooth in-bound supply chain. With a multitude of vehicles and mining
equipment in operations, which require millions of spare part components, three-
dimensional printing or 3D printing provides an opportunity to revolutionize the concept of
parts availability and stock-keeping within the supply chain. Downtime of mining equipment
or vehicle could be extremely costly. Mines today have to bear the brunt of excess
inventory, warehousing and storage costs, as well as logistical costs of urgently
transporting parts to ensure machines are kept up and running. With 3DP capability on site,
one needs only access to a digital service parts library for production of a required part
when and where needed. With spare parts stored digitally, warehousing and inventory
costs can be reduced and time consuming and cost-intensive process of transporting parts
to remote sites can be eliminated.
Different mining environment require different tools, which subsequently makes the cost-
effective production of unique and customized items, even in small quantities, the most
significant advantage of 3D printing, compared with traditional mass-scale manufacturing.
3DP could also help optimize material and energy consumption by only consuming the raw
material required to build the final product, thus supporting a leaner and greener approach
to production.
3DP addresses many questions of sustainability also that have become so important of
late. Not only would transportation costs be reduced as alluded to above, but evolution of
the technology could make the designs themselves, more energy and fuel efficient. Unlike
traditional manufacturing where raw materials are subtracted resulting in waste, the
process of additive manufacturing in itself sees reduced waste in terms of energy used for
production and that of raw materials. It is also foreseen that used or faulty parts can be
recycled allowing for the re-use of their raw materials further adding to the sustainability of
3DP.The ideas of usage of 3DP will mean simultaneous changes to the supply chain
operations of the mines using the technology. These changes to the point of manufacture,
inventory, equipment, labour, transportation, and products stand to be significantly
simplified, seeing a far more efficient use of financial and material resources in future. As
the complexity of the existing supply chains gives way to true on-demand in-sourcing of
parts, operations strategies and policies would need to be adapted in order to ensure
effectiveness.
Mass adoption of 3DP for mining operations is still a long way to go. It would require
development of suitable raw material for production, economic scale of production and
sophistication of printing technology required for products required in mining operations.
However, looking at the current speed of development and action, 3DP is likely to advance
quickly towards the production of ever more refined products at both a larger scale and
from highly complex materials. In the coming years 3DP is one of the technology holding
the answers to driving higher efficiency and productivity.
Blockchain Technology
What is blockchain after all? Blockchains are ledgers (like excel spreadsheets), but they
accept inputs from lots of different parties. The ledger can only be changed when there is
consensus among the group. That makes them more secure, and it means there is no need
for a central authority to approve transactions. The question is whether blockchain
technology in mining can help achieve greater security and productivity. There seem to be
multiple areas where blockchain technology can help the mining organization and these
areas are still evolving.
The mining industry is under threat from cyber attacks aimed at exploiting its strategic
position in global supply chains. As per report published by a security firm, since 2010,
there have been major cyber attacks at 22 mining companies. Motivations for breaches
have ranged from derailing an M&A transaction to stealing intellectual property and
personal information. As devices become more connected and processes more digitised,
mining companies will need to contend with an increased number of network borne security
threats.

Blockchain thus allows individuals to sign contracts electronically, without having to rely on
a third party to verify the contract’s validity. Blockchain is a digital ledger that keeps a
record of every transaction and safely encrypts that information. Since the need for a third
party to validate the records is eliminated, it reduces the exposure of data to hackers. Since
there is no centralized system, any attack could in theory be limited to the block it has
affected, and avoid major, companywide impacts. Blockchain technology offers a number
of advantages that includes enhanced, real-time tracking of goods from their very origin,
immutable recording and sharing of exploration results in mining research, enhanced
means of measuring product quality during transportation and more. Blockchain could be
used to simplify cross border payments used in mining and reduced regulatory compliances
as well as related intermediaries. As mines operate all over the world, the expense of
cross-border payments is a problem for the industry. Blockchain could help speed up the
process of paying. High-value metals and minerals like rough diamonds could be tracked
from the ground to the seller and eventually to the buyer. This would help eliminate illegal
activity and blood diamond trade. The miners could also use block chain to drive ‘smart
contracts’ and execute these automatically across multiple jurisdictions.
BHP Billiton is looking to block chain technology to improve its supply chain processes.
Blockchain would be used to record movements of wellbore rock and fluid samples and
better secure the real-time data that is generated during delivery. BHP relies on vendors at
nearly every stage in the mining process, contracting with geologists and shipping
companies to collect samples and conduct analyses that drive business decisions that
occur with parties distributed across continents. According to BHP, the new system will
enable benefits for its internal efficiency while allowing it to work more effectively with
partners. BHP believes that the use case proves blockchain solutions can
achieve decentralized file storage, multi-party data acquisition and immutability, all aspects
that will enhance the supply chain.

The Digital Core for Mining Companies


While each of these emerging technologies have the potential of becoming game-changers
which could drive the next wave of transformation, the appropriateness of a powerful IT
platform with industry specific and relevant capabilities that could fully leverage the value
potential is key for mining companies. One critical element is a fully integrated digital core
(e.g. delivered today by companies like SAP) which is built leveraging latest technologies
and brings together all elements of a digital strategy encompassing the entire value chain.
The other critical element is an open platform (such as SAP cloud platform) which enables
these newer areas quickly and easily, both in terms of adoption and in terms of providing
the necessary required technical capabilities. In this twin mode or dual mode of IT today,
these two critical boxes are stabilizing business and driving technology innovations on a
common platform in full integration with digital core. This helps in running the business
sustainably while continuing to differentiate and innovate using these technology
innovations
Internet of Things, Big Data Analytics, Robotics and Block Chain – the effectiveness of
these initiatives also lies in being able to generate key business insights on a real-time
basis, which is supported by the IT capability to analyse huge amount of complex data
generated from the various equipment, systems and applications working in a mining
scenario. Today, companies like SAP can support bringing together business transactions
and intelligent insights in a Digital Core. A new generation of ERP solution, running in real
time, integrating predictive, big data, and advanced analytics, is changing how mining
companies work, how they run their businesses, and how information is consumed.
With in-memory computing capability, at the heart of such a digital core, which brings
together transaction and analytics in the same platform, we can now leverage data coming
from equipment, vehicles, people, meters, sensors, drones and other mining applications
by bring it together and analyzing in milli-seconds to generate the perfect recommendation,
which can be instantly acted upon in transactional systems via human and machine-to-
machine interface.
Conclusion
The mining industry, worldwide and also in India, had been going through difficult times.
With variability in commodity prices, related risks and stricter environmental regulations as
the key challenges, mining companies are scaling back capital expenditures but with a shift
to maximizing value by increasing production volumes from existing operations with
improved productivity and efficiencies. The newer generation technology innovations are at
the heart of such a movement.
In such a scenario, these technology innovations are surely being looked at to help the
mining companies in improving efficiency and reducing the cost of operations. The potential
of the various technology innovation led redefined business models and work for the mining
industry is immense. It is already making its impact felt by making remote operations more
automated, efficient and safer.
While large, global mining companies have already begun their journey leveraging these
technology innovations towards ‘digital and connected mining’ operations, this is a scenario
which most mining company would and should strive for in the future with clear business
value. It might take few years, but the technology adoption would gain real momentum in
even the Indian mining industry. This digital transformation needs to be a part of the core
strategy in Indian industry and such technology innovations as key levers for redefining the
sustainability of mining industry in our country and positioning it right up there with the
global peers.