Solutions developed to tackle mine safety and environmental performance will have a greater impact beyond the industry. JONATHAN LAW writes
Technology moves quickly. I don't mean the pace of development, but rather the opportunities to share, integrate and span industry boundaries.
Take WiFi as an example. It was invented by CSIRO scientists to deal with data flows from new telescopes in the 1990s. It's now an integral part of so many innovative solutions – from social media, to the very fabric of Industry 4.0 where physical infrastructure meets the digital domain.
Mine safety and improving environmental outcomes
While the focus of this Resourceful edition is on how technology is changing mine safety and environmental outcomes, a second theme emerges: how these technology developments evolve and are applied and shared across industries boundaries.
Raw materials, metals and the immediate mine environment are the visible face of the mining industry. Yet, mining is also a source and creator of many great innovations that have been applied to make a difference in other fields.
Mining innovations adopted in other industries
For example, fast and reliable sensing developed in the mining industry for mineral-based ore sorting is opening opportunities to detect explosives without the need to open freight or undertake chemical analyses. This builds on airport scanners already in the market that deploy neutron sensors for bulk cargo scanning.
Similarly, new 3D imaging technology originally developed for underground mining is being adopted by major manufacturers to enhance situational awareness and simulation for process and quality control.
Water resource management
Managing water in and around mine sites is essential to safe and sustainable operations. The mining industry is delivering these technologies to other industries and to address the international water challenge. One of our latest developments, SENSEI measures water chemistry in surface and sub-surface environments, providing an early warning system to enable systematic management of our water resources. Secondly, the Bureau of Meteorology's groundwater explorer provides an integrated view of national water resources and opportunities to ensure that regional resources are effectively managed through a synergistic solution for mining to agriculture.
Navigating the underground is hard without access to digital and satellite technologies that we all take for granted on the surface in order to deliver control for automation.
Inertial navigation systems are providing precision positioning data for mining, as well as broader applications in other challenging environments.
Fibre optic technology to monitor mine conveyor belts
Our partners at Mining3 have developed a fibre optic-based conveyor monitoring technology, commercialised with the AVA group's Future Fibre Technologies, to monitor the health of bearings on mine conveyors. This technology replaces tedious manual inspections in harsh working environments and will find many applications outside mining.
As the related article Conveyor monitoring highlights: "there aren't many industries that use conveyor belts to the extent that mining does, but there is strong interest from the bulk handling energy, manufacturing and engineering industries."
Naturally this conveyor belt innovation was built on the foundations laid before in fibre optics development, which started in the digital and telecommunications space. And of course, there are countless of examples of technologies from other fields adopted by the mining industry.
I hope that the examples shared in this edition work to inspire what mining innovation can achieve for the world – not just from an industry safety and environmental performance perspective, but also for governments and industries tackling diverse challenges in areas such as agriculture, health, security and manufacturing.