The mining sector has been working to reinvent itself, with the rising pressure for cleaner, safer and more efficient processes. Hence, there have been fundamental shifts across the mining value chain as miners are forced to adopt digitalisation and data analytics to improve their operational excellence and risk management. The COVID-19 has only helped accelerate this transformation.
The efforts have been many. Tata Steel, a mining major, had charted out its vision a couple of years ago to become a leading player in digitalising its mining operations across the value chain. All major miners are today developing the mine of the future which is remodelled for growth and sustainability while leveraging technology and innovations.
Tech to the fore
By using high-end technology, the miners ultimately aim is to have remote-controlled mines that can be monitored from anywhere for a safer and more sustainable mining operations. Consequently, while managerial skills will continue to have their relevance, the software and analytical skills would become more important from an HR perspective.
The companies are leveraging automation, robotics, and operational hardware to achieve their objectives. Applications of automation and robotics in mining make mining operations safer and less hazardous through usages including robotic dozing, excavation, hauling, robotic drilling, explosives handling as well as robotic mapping and surveying.
To enable this endeavour, the sector is now having to hire a good number of digitally enabled workforce more like any high-tech firm. The mining companies are now using integrated enterprise, platforms, and ecosystems for optimising their operations and are leveraging next-generation analytics and decision support.
Tech in the mine
Tata Steel has also undertaken several initiatives in the domain of automation and digitalisation of its mines and beneficiation plants as well as logistics. Some of the initiatives taken by the Company include improved bandwidth of LAN/WAN for digital communication and data transfer; digital data capturing and Integrated online reports for safety, production, quality and supply chain; automation/ sensorisation of plant equipment and mining equipment for automatic capturing of data using IOT or digital data transmission using OFC; remote controlled operations of equipment like conveyors and pumps; centralised monitoring of operations of plant and mine, Suraksha Card, video analytics, online safety management system, online safety management plan, and digital mine mapping using drone survey and GIS-based technologies.
These digital/ automation initiatives have helped the Company to make a quantum improvement in information flow, data transparency and decision-making. These initiatives have helped in improving efficiency, productivity, and safety. Data Mining using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to make sense of voluminous data captured online by various sensors across the value chain and instrumentation needs to be stepped up in future. The ultimate aim would be to have remote-controlled mines that can be monitored from anywhere for more safe and sustainable mining operations.
The digitalisation in the sector is giving rise to new possibilities of greater productivity and also to create workplaces that are stimulating and inspiring. The inspiration for the sector often comes from the German industrial concept of Industry 4.0. If used in the right way, digitalisation can generate attractive jobs in a safe control room environments, which would offer opportunities for the employees to display their expertise and creativity as the control room receives processed information from the “rock”, from the personnel, and from the machinery.
There are several advantages of digitalisation in mining. These include Higher Mine Safety, Longer Mine Life through better Mine Planning and Mineral Resource Visibility. Digitalisation helps in developing targeted strategies using real time data and data analytics, provides visualisation and decision matrix tools to predict failure, helps optimising scheduling and material flow and improves the capability of beneficiation plants through online monitoring of quality data. It also helps in improving productivity through real time monitoring of equipment, plant and operator performance and sweating of capital-intensive mining equipment. Digitalisation also facilitates compliance to statutory requirements through accurate land use plan and visibility and accurate volume measurements using drone/scanner technologies, etc.