The costs of operating a mine today are at an all-time high, but the cost of commodities are at an all-time low. This is resulting in lower returns and many mines operating at a loss. The industry is at a turning point where innovation and efficiency are more important than ever.
“Companies are looking for ways to improve their operations even in the more finite ways,” says Andrea Gaunt, Extractives Sector Advisor, Export Development Canada (EDC). “While it’s a huge push on the industry, it’s also creating some incredible innovation.”
Gaunt and her colleagues attended the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) International Convention last month where they were able to get a first-hand glimpse of the newest innovations coming out of the sector. The biggest trend was the growing strategy to be more connected, and to embrace the Internet of Things (IoT).
The IoT, sometimes called the Internet of Everything, has been championed by Cisco systems. It is a concept whereby all aspects of a business are connected through wireless networks and communications technology. This allows businesses to achieve greater control over machinery, increased response times, fewer interruptions and higher safety standards.
“Canadian mining companies are beginning to capitalize on the concept of IoT. The ability to connect parts areas of production to communications technology making operations more efficient is how they will ensure their businesses can stay afloat,” said Gaunt. “For example Rio Tinto is connecting their vehicles to GPS, allowing them to become driverless. This is increasing productivity and safety within their operations.”
For the mining industry this means more than driverless trucks. The IoT in mining will mean advances such as improved analytics of ground and soil, continuous knowledge of the health of equipment and necessary maintenance, optimization of vehicle routes, and drones that can monitor surface operations.
“A surprise benefit to all this is a reduction of the industry’s carbon footprint,” says Gaunt. “For example, when a mining team is able to identify specific areas where there are minerals, it reduces the amount of exploration, and the digging required. If the vehicles are running more efficiently, it reduces the energy they consume.”
“This is a great opportunity for two of Canada’s most innovative sectors, clean technologies and extractive, to come together,” said Lynn Côté, EDC Sector Advisor for Cleantech. “As companies continue to innovate they are inevitably becoming greener as well. This is the fastest growing industry in Canada and by partnering with mining we expect to see even more growth.”