The last few years, companies have begun to be forced into measures to increase cost-saving and efficiency. This has naturally bred innovation. Here are five technologies disrupting mining for good:
Automation is an industry-wide hot topic. Autonomous trucks are becoming a more frequent presence around mines, with market leaders Cat and Komatsu introducing their automated haulage systems in the last two years, and Hitachi announcing their offering in December 2017.
The next step in mining automation could even be mines with no miners, after Rio Tinto unveiled their plans for a $2.2bn ‘intelligent mine’ packed with driverless trains, trucks and robotics. They’re not necessarily just replacing jobs either. Another benefit is that it allows producers to drill deeper with narrower shafts into conditions uninhabitable for humans.
2. Underground Excavators
In underground mining, safety is a top priority. Earlier this year, Atlas Copco released their new line of Underground Mobile Miners specifically for hard rock mines. This new technology circumvents the traditional, and more dangerous, drill and blast method. It also means that mines wouldn’t have to be evacuated in order to mine hard rock.
Atlas Copco believe that their technology has the potential to ‘change the mining industry’.
3 Electric Vehicles
Mining isn’t necessarily seen as the most environmentally friendly industry. With the Paris Climate Agreement and a host of other factors urging the international community to do more to reduce emissions and tackle climate change, the use of electric vehicles is set to become more and more popular, replacing their diesel-powered alternatives.
Enter electric mining vehicles.
It’s an interesting market – the space remains to be monopolised and, while companies like Cat are developing products like their Underground Electric LHD, we’re also seeing a host of smaller players move into the area. ETF Manufacturing have recently introduced their all-electric surface haul truck and GHH have also introduced their own range of electric LHDs.
4. X Ray Diffraction
It’s not all hardware that will be changing the game. Mining software has been making every mine ‘smarter’ for some time. One of the most innovative examples of this is X-ray diffraction.
This is used to analyse samples to check their property densities which saves both time and money when targeting particularly rich materials. Companies like ALROSA have already enjoyed success through effectively utilising the technology.
5. Sensor Based Sorting
Innovation isn’t just staying down the mine either. Companies have been investing heavily in new mineral processing technology, with sensor-based sorting being a particular area of focus.
Sensor based sorting is designed to split commercially valuable minerals from ores as efficiently and cheaply as possible – leading to increased productivity. Steinert and Tomra are both big players in sensor based sorting, and in I think we’ll see these two and others investing more into the area, and the incorporation of even newer technology into separation, such as mining magnets.
Well that’s five. It’s by no means an exhaustive or exclusive list, as the sector is constantly evolving, with innovation coming from an increasing number of smaller businesses that I’ve not included. For example, Mining Magazine Award for Innovation nominees like BlastBoss, Belaz, Newtrax and Eriez are all unfortunate not to get a shout out.
What does Nick Hare, the President of Hexagon's mining division, think about the latest autonomous technologies in mining? Click to find out.
2020 was a tough year, but tunnelling companies adapted admirably to the challenges of COVID-19. Now there’s light at the end of the tunnel (no pun intended), the industry is stronger and producing some of the most exciting technology it ever has.