04 January 2021
Ben Robinson By Ben Robinson

4 Ways Mining is Changing in 2021.

2020 has forced the mining industry to adapt and work smarter.

As a global head-hunter, I’ve partnered with many companies throughout the pandemic. This has given me a unique overview of the market, making it easier to identify potential trends for 2021.

Mining is changing. The adoption of automated technologies is accelerating and digitalisation is on the rise too. There also continues to be a shift toward green initiatives as the industry takes responsibility of its environmental impact.

If you’re in mining, you’ll want to stay up to date with the following.

Getting Automated & Going Digital

Thanks to a wealth of new technologies that have entered the market, mining is getting more automated. This has been happening for a few years, improving efficiency and safety throughout the industry.

However, development of autonomous solutions has been increasing to combat the challenges of COVID-19. Many miners have adopted autonomous solutions ahead of schedule to lower costs and create safer and cleaner mines - so more can be done with fewer people.

There is no limit to the impact automation and digitalization has on a mine site, from automated machinery to driver monitoring system software and data centres. So, to pick individual advancements is tricky. Here’s what the readers of Mining Magazine voted for as the standout technologies of late.

There’s also been advances in how the industry uses data and digital twinning. Australia's big three iron-ore miners all have ‘digital twins’, or big city control centres to let them manage parts of their operations from hundreds of kilometres away.

These sites are growing more common, collecting data to harness artificial intelligence (AI) for modelling and designing blast timing, among other things - optimising the work that’s done on-site.

As automation and digitalisation grows within the industry, so does the ability to manage remote mine sites. This is unlikely to take off and become widespread in 2021 because of challenges for this level of technology to reach remote sites in areas like Africa, Mongolia or Chile.

There are other difficulties that must be overcome too. For example, there’s still work to be done on the interoperability between different types of machines and software to ensure a harmonious end-to-end mining lifecycle.

A New Wave of Professionals

This modern, digital, automated practice of mining is a serious advancement on the pickaxes and railway haulers of old. It requires a host of new, technical skills. In 2020, I worked on a number of roles for data engineers and expect this to continue this year.

To attract people with these skillsets, companies will have to adapt their recruitment strategies. That could mean hiring data engineers from outside the industry to train in mining. This will go beyond engineers through to sales, service, technical support; creating a new wave of non-traditional mining personnel.

This is also something that needs to be considered at a higher education level. Mining engineering as a university course and the qualification of highly skilled mining engineers should always be the backbone of the industry. However, there will also need to be advancements in the ways the industry reaches out to attract tech super stars (one of the most competitive markets for skilled graduates). So, in 2021 it’ll be interesting to see the different tactics employed by companies to attract data scientists away from other industries.

Going Green

Another hot topic of conversation is mining’s environmental conscience, which CM Industrial spoke to a number of leaders about last year.

The consensus was that the world wouldn’t be the same without mining. So, the challenge is not to replace mining but make it more eco-friendly. In 2021, this appears a priority for the entire industry.

In my article “Mining and Our Environment Can Live in Harmony” I referenced some of the great work being done by the likes of Sempertrans, Agudioto, Dos Santos International, CPS Conveyors, Schenck Process in conveyors. However, there’s great work being done throughout mining.

For 2021, one of the most exciting things to watch out for will be how Newmont goes about achieving its climate change targets. In December, the top gold producer promised to spend $500m over five years to meet climate change targets, accelerating its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at Newmont operations.

This is on the back of committing to a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. The company is studying solar and wind installations at several mines, including Peñasquito in Mexico and Ahafo in Ghana, as well as other ways to boost efficiencies across its operations.

More Favourable Commodity Prices

Another positive trend to look forward to in 2021, is the favourable pricing environment.

2020 ushered in the most favourable market conditions for mineral exploration since the end of the last commodity cycle boom, with many (but certainly not all) issuers able to raise some much-needed capital.

In 2021, almost all mineral and metal prices - except iron ore - are expected to average higher on a year-on-year (YoY) basis. Prices for copper, lithium and cobalt will continue to improve, as governments step-up their green agendas.

The commodity price for gold is looking strong too, working as a catalyst for smaller financings and property transactions.

This environment should fill mining companies with hope for 2021 in this ever-evolving industry. I’m excited to see what happens, as more innovative automated technologies emerge and more companies profit from the advantages of digitalisation. It will also be fascinating to see how the industry continues to be more environmentally conscience.

Overall, 2021 will likely be extremely challenging year with the COVID-19 effect felt for a while. There continues to be questions over supply chain and the on-site efficiency, as companies try to continue their operations safely in a global pandemic. However, I’m excited. 2020 showed us that this industry is one of the most resilient in the world. The more challenges that were thrown at the industry, the more it innovated. Now, with the commodity market more favourable and technology continuing to advance, I expect mining to continue to overcome its adversities building a brighter future for all.

If you recognise these trends in the market or have anything that you’d like to share with me about you, your company or mining; please email me at Ben.Robinson@industrial-cm.com.

Please find more of my mining content on my consultant page.

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Ben Robinson

Ben Robinson is a Director that leads CM Industrial. While his team recruit talent and build teams across a variety of markets, Ben focuses on the mining & minerals industry. Drawing on his experience in this space, Ben is a real thought leader, providing valuable market insight through his array of industry-specific articles.

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