After years of pessimism, in 2017 I wrote an article about why I thought there were a few reasons to be positive about the mining industry (find it here), and I was really pleased with the reception it had, and conversations I had following on from it! So, to follow on from that, I wanted to take a look ahead at 2018, and the technologies I think are really disrupting the industry at the moment.
The last few years of companies being forced into more cost-saving and efficiency measures have naturally bred innovation, and I think we have a lot to look forward to, this year and beyond, as a result!
Automation is one of the hottest topics in every sector of industry at the moment. Whether it’s the World Bank fearing for the future of low skilled workers or reasons to be optimistic, it’s an issue very much in vogue as we enter 2018.
Mining is no different – autonomous trucks are becoming an ever more frequent presence around mines, with market leaders Cat and Komatsu introducing their automated haulage systems in the last two years, and Hitachi announcing their offeringin December 2017.
The next step in mining automation could even be mines with no miners, after Rio Tinto unveiled their plans for a $2.2B ‘intelligent mine’ packed with driverless trains, trucks and robotics. They’re not necessarily just replacing jobs either – some automation in mining is allowing producers to drill deeper and with narrower shafts into conditions uninhabitable for humans.
2. Underground Excavators
In underground mining, safety is a top priority and earlier this year Atlas Copco released their new line of Underground Mobile Miners specifically for hard rock mines. This new technology circumvents the traditional, and more dangerous, drill and blast method and also means that mines wouldn’t have to be evacuated in order to mine hard rock.
Atlas Copco believe their technology has the potential to ‘change the mining industry’.
3 Electric Vehicles
Mining isn’t necessarily seen as the most environmentally friendly industry, and with the Paris Climate Agreement and a host of other factors urging the international community to do more to reduce emissions and tackle climate change, the use of electric vehicles is set to become more and more popular, replacing their diesel-powered alternatives.
It’s an interesting market too – no one company has monopolised the space and, whilst companies like Cat are developing products like their Underground Electric LHD, we’re also seeing a host of smaller players moving into the area. ETF Manufacturing have recently introduced their all-electric surface haul truck and GHH have also introduced their own range of electric LHDs.
4. X Ray Diffraction
It’s not all hardware that will be changing the game in 2018. Mining software has been making every mine ‘smarter’ for some time, and one of the most innovative examples of this is X-ray diffraction.
This is used to analyse samples to check their property densities which saves both time and money when targeting particularly rich materials. Companies like ALROSA have already enjoyed success through effectively utilising the technology.
There are a number of other players too though, with SGS, Bureau Veritas and Bruker all involved.
5. Sensor Based Sorting
Innovation isn’t just staying down the mine either. Companies have been investing heavily in new mineral processing technology, with sensor based sorting being a particular area of focus.
Sensor based sorting is designed to split commercially valuable minerals from ores as efficiently and cheaply as possible – leading to increased productivity. Steinert and Tomra are both big players in sensor based sorting, and in 2018 I think we’ll see these two and others investing more into the area, and the incorporation of even newer technology into separation, such as mining magnets.
So that’s the 5 I’ve chosen! It’s by no means an exhaustive or exclusive list, as the sector is constantly evolving.
What I’d really like to know is what you think. Do you agree with my areas for innovation this year? Have I made any glaring omissions? Let me know in the comments what, or who, you think is going to be the big thing in the mining industry this year.
Ben Robinson is a Business Manager at Charlton Morris. Charlton Morris provide Executive Search Solutions for the Industrial, Medical Device and Life Science markets, and I personally specialise in the mining space. Feel free to follow Charlton Morris on LinkedIn.