Mining technology has changed significantly over the years, and investment in improving mining tech continues to carry on without any signs of slowing down. The replacement of manpower and the automation of machinery has helped increase profits for mining companies, particularly within Australia – a country where mining is one of the pivotal sources of financial revenue.
Drones and driver-less trucks have made the mining process easier, more cost effective and safer. These days it’s rare to hear of a mining related casualty, which is a far cry from the days of manual mining whereby people would be stuck deep down in the earth surrounded by an array of hazardous materials, and the potential possibility of a cave-in.
Let’s take a look at the ways technology has improved mining techniques and see where the industry is heading.
- The power of the internet now reaches its digital grasp all the way through the mining industry. Technologies such as driver-less trucks are only possible with high speed wireless transmissions. These trucks also need to transmit data back and forth, in order to receive their instructions and transmit data about their current surroundings.
- Similar to the internet, and reliant upon it in some ways are the algorithms used to make these trucks intelligent. Trucks need to be aware of their surroundings, what types of materials are around them, and where to go. This is essential so trucks worth hundreds of thousands of dollars don’t get damaged unnecessarily.
- Wearable technology plays a part now and in the future too. Much like the general public has started using fitness technology, miners are being provided with wearable technology, which improves safety, their ability to communicate with colleagues and also helps improve awareness of their surroundings.
- Augmented reality has barely gained momentum with the general public, but miners will soon start using it to automatically communicate their surroundings to offices, and provide vision of areas not normally visible to the naked eye.
These are just a few of the examples in which technology has changed or is changing the face of mining as we know it. The amount of money that goes into researching how to apply these technologies to mining is astounding, but not unexpected. Mining is a hugely profitable industry and with any profitable industry, research often goes alongside with it in order to try and increase productivity and reduce costs.
A great example of applying modern technology to mining is Google Glass. Whilst this has not yet taken off all that well as a consumer device, its potential for work based activities was quickly realized. Google glass can be used to access manuals, instructions and other information related to mining whilst remaining hands-free if performing a delicate or important task. If a worker needs assistance, they can contact someone to help them via Google glass and work with both hands, following the instructions of the helper.
This technological advancement all sounds great, but there are some key factors in Australia that stop it from flourishing. For example, 75% of Australia is still not covered by high speed internet, let alone mobile networks. Newer technologies such as the NBN are more focused around residential areas, and will not roll-out to rural and mining areas for some time.
With all of this new potential technology, it can also be difficult to quantify the benefits and profits. The cost of research and application is huge, and without being able to measure or study the results elsewhere, this is a risk that many companies aren’t yet willing to take.
Mining still has a long way to go before it becomes a highly technological industry, but it has been moving in that direction quickly over the last decade. Improvements in technology will hopefully also bring about more environmentally friendly methods of mining, a topic that has recently brought a lot of controversy not only within Australia but throughout the entire world.