The potential for digital disruption of the exploration and mining industry has been widely recognised and discussed, but as yet, the opportunities are not yet being widely realised. ROB HOUGH writes

With the speed that technological advancements is accelerating today, it is easy to imagine that tomorrow's world will be unrecognisable today.

Dr Rob Hough, Director (acting) CSIRO Mineral Resources

This of course also applies to our world of exploration and mining where new and innovative technologies are being developed to ensure safer, more sustainable and consistent yields that supports further mining explorations.

Dr Sue Keay, Research Director Cyber Physical Systems eloquently shares in her article, "the barrier to adoption remains developing a business case and system-level approach to technology implementation that would see application on a large scale rather than in a piecemeal fashion".

In this issue of Resourceful, we explore what a digitally enabled mine looks like now and what will a future digital mine mean for mining workforces?

The digitally enabled mine

The development of a digital mine requires the use of smart sensors for data capture and analysis throughout the mining value chain.

Sensing for high quality data at different staging points can reduce uncertainty and risk, but to achieve a predictive approach that allows for management of variability, the focus needs to be on very high quality and targeted sensing points building on detailed characterisation that generates quality data up front.

This then supports a detailed model of the ore body that is the crux of all subsequent planning and decision making.

Although hard to win, that investment up front, could provide Boards and executives greater certainty on future performance including for productivity, safety and environmental outcomes.

Quality characterisation is key

Intelligent ore body knowledge allows for a detailed and predictive understanding of the properties that matter to the operation.

Decisions that impact value creation and destruction or have environmental impacts, such as supporting reduction of emissions or waste can be made earlier in planning, design and engineering, resulting in improved triple bottom line benefits.

The ability to sense and map mineralogy is a good example, it could be more valuable to the triple bottom line of an operation than just sensing grade.

This becomes apparent when considering clay mineralogy; clay content can control hardness (and thus energy budget for comminution), can impact waste materials, moisture content of certain ore streams.

Prediction and management of these factors via multi-scale sensing – downhole, mine faces, benches, material on trucks, conveyors and stockpiles enable better decision making for mine plans, beneficiation variability and waste streams.

If much of this data can be collected during exploration, the value addition is amplified.

Sensors and data

Take modern cars as a good example, they encompass complex software to support the driver with information to make decisions.

This computational capability is nothing without the series of sensors feeding the real time data from GPS, cameras, light, rain, and radar sensors to name but a few.

As deployment of sensors across all industries and facets of daily life becomes widespread and provides new streams of information supporting end-users to make better and quicker decisions with reduced uncertainty we can also expect a new generation of users who expect such data, want more, and embrace the opportunities it gives them.

As CSIRO's Integrated Mining Research Engineer Craig James reflects in the article 'Unleashing the potential of digital twins', although “automation is changing their roles, people are essential to operations as they're a lot more creative and can respond to exceptional circumstances more effectively”.

Perhaps the greatest gains from this disruptive transition to a digital future could come from the flexibility these advances in technology, real time data, and tools for decisions, could enable for a future workforce, ultimately attracting more talent and workforce diversity to our industry.

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