The World Economic Forum estimates that robotics and automation can avert about 10,000 injuries within the metals and mining industries in just a decade, and that autonomous hauling could improve productivity by at least 15-30%. These figures are realistic and they highlight why autonomous mining should be pursued with urgency. Here are some of the things that need to happen for autonomous mining to become a widespread reality.
Establish the Foundation
For fully autonomous mining to exist, a core IT architecture needs to be set up so that every piece of mining equipment can communicate seamlessly with the different systems at the site. For example, it would be disastrous if a Hitachi excavator on site cannot communicate with a Caterpillar truck hauling materials off the site.
Cyber-security also needs to be carefully thought about and enhanced to avert the catastrophes which can result if hackers ever get control of the autonomous mining operations.
Data Readiness is a Must
Lots of data from numerous sources is needed to avail the raw material which analytics tools and artificial intelligence systems need to support all the decision-making processes during mining. Mining companies therefore have to prepare to capture as well as manage constantly growing volumes of data while at the same time making sure that all that data can be trusted and relied upon as the autonomous systems are making decisions.
If data readiness isn’t achieved, automation would be hard to implement, or it would be severely limited in scope.
Manage the Change
If a mining enterprise is to succeed at fully automating its mining operations, companies like Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU) (TSX: EFR) would need to invest heavily in reskilling and retraining their employees so that they can be ready to work in the new autonomous setting. While some people may think that automation leads to job cuts, the truth is that many more jobs are created than those which are lost. The only difference is that the new jobs available aren’t along the same lines as those which previously existed.
For example, undergoing training as a mining truck driver isn’t wise when automation is looming. Rather, getting skilled as a data analytics specialist or data scientist, or even as an autonomous truck maintenance technician is a lot more forward-looking.
As the years roll by, there is likely to be a shift towards even greater environmental and human safety. This focus will compel mining entities to make gradual shifts to full automation, and as that momentum builds, autonomous mining will become the norm.
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