International mining officials say the coronavirus crisis has led to increased automation in the industry.
The changes are likely to lead to lower costs and smaller, cleaner mines where more can be done with fewer people, the officials said. Industry leaders spoke about the issue at the Imarc mining conference in the southeastern Australian city of Melbourne.
Conference attendee Suresh Vadnagra is the chief technology officer for Newcrest, one of the world’s largest gold-mining companies. “The pandemic has forced us to think about how we can do more of the work that had to happen on site, remotely. And how we do those tasks with less people,” he said.
An increasing number of companies are looking at ways to better use machines and “big data” to improve their business operations, Vadnagra added. Big data is a term for very large amounts of information produced by people using the internet. Big data can only be stored, understood and used with the help of special computers and methods.
Australia’s three largest ore mining companies already have control centers in cities that supervise parts of their operations from hundreds of kilometers away. Such centers are becoming more common.
Experts say one example of big data’s use in the industry is in ore collection operations. When sensor equipment is placed inside drill holes, it can provide positioning data and identify ground materials.
Such data permits mining companies to use machine learning to produce models to help improve explosive mining methods, said Dirk van Soelen. He is the vice president of explosives manufacturer Dyno Nobel.
Improvements like this, along with new technologies, will help British mining company Anglo American reduce costs by 10 to 20 percent in coming years, Chief Executive Mark Cutifani said.
“Using automation and industrial processes, we have changed mining methods,” he told Reuters news agency. Cutifani said his company had started using imaging technology to automatically scan and divide pieces of ore.
The method is expected to be used throughout the company “in the next few years,” he added. The technology has led to drops in Anglo American’s “energy intensity,” Cutifani said.
Big data is also permitting companies to better track energy use and carbon emissions, said Bas Mutsaers, a marketing expert at European energy company Schneider Electric.
“We can use this data to confirm our understanding of the processes at the site, to see correlations,” Mutsaers said. This could help miners predict when to use, produce, store or sell energy on solar farms, he added.
Machine learning methods can permit companies “to do this at ever higher levels of complexity and speed,” Mutsaers said.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
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Words in This Story
automation – n. to run or operate something using machines and computers instead of many workers
remote – adj. far away, from a distance
task – n. a piece of work, a particular job
drill – v. to make a hole in a material or the ground using a machine for the purpose
scan – v. to make an image or picture of something for use by a computer
track – v. to follow in order to find out more about something
correlation – n. the relationship between thing that happen or change together