How digital innovation can improve mining productivity
The global mining industry is under pressure. In the short term, falling commodity prices are squeezing cash flow. Looking ahead, many existing mines are maturing, resulting in the extraction of lower ore grades and longer haul distances from the mine face; ore-body-replacement rates are in decline; and new-mine-development times are increasing. On top of this, worldwide mining operations are as much as 28 percent less productive today than a decade ago—and that’s after adjusting for declining ore grades.1
The industry has shifted its focus to improving productivity by “sweating” existing assets, but this strategy will go only so far. Despite the industry’s booms and busts, the nature of mining has stayed the same for decades. Achieving a breakthrough on productivity performance demands rethinking how mining works.
The potential to achieve such a breakthrough is now coming within the industry’s reach through digital and technology innovations that could transform key aspects of mining. In this article, we describe a number of digital technologies that have long been in the works and are now available and affordable enough to become operational at scale across the mining industry. Their applications include building a more comprehensive understanding of the resource base, optimizing material and equipment flow, improving anticipation of failures, increasing mechanization through automation, and monitoring performance in real time.
Alone, each of these opportunities has real potential; together, they represent a fundamental shift in both potential safety outcomes and how value can be captured in the mining sector. We outline these opportunities and raise several key questions that miners should ask themselves as they navigate the journey.