Quarrying companies are at risk of losing out to savvy operators if they fail to embrace data analytics, machine learning and automation technology, according to presenters at a Sandvik-hosted conference into digitalisation of the sector.
The topics were the focus of presentations at the Digitalisation in Mining event hosted by the mining and rock technology company in Brisbane on 3 and 4 December, 2019.
The two-day summit showcased best practice examples of digitalisation, attracting about 300 leaders from the mining, construction and quarrying industries in Australia, Japan and Indonesia.
Steve Franklin is the CEO and principal consultant of Cement and Aggregate Consulting, a company that aims to build better quarries through digital innovation.
After attending the conference, he said the message was clear – innovate or lose to someone else who will.
“In the mining industry there is a lot of discussion about autonomous equipment, but what they were talking about specifically was machine learning to help you better predict things like sales, maintenance events or what is happening with equipment in the field,” he said.
“They were also talking about artificial intelligence and advanced communications technology.”
Franklin said one presentation featured a Perth company that operated a machine underground from another location using the commercial internet for communication. Another example was a New South Wales underground mine that reduced its production costs by 24 per cent after implementing a fully autonomous operation.
Despite the topics of discussion, Franklin said he was surprised to learn that only about seven quarry-related delegates attended.
“There were a whole range of quite pragmatic, tough mining business managers, and yet they were unanimous in their support for digitalisation in their operations,” Franklin said. “That same interest and passion is not in the quarrying industry where we see tremendous benefits from those types of technologies.”
The event featured key industry figures who explained the first-hand benefits of automation and process optimisation solutions, as well as the change in mindset necessary to adopt innovation.
In his presentation, Pat Boniwell, managing director of Byrnecut Australia, said operators could only get the best out of their operations through a fundamental understanding of each individual process.
“New technology, automation, data transfer and analysis will all assist us in increasing the utilisation of our resources,” Boniwell said. “Data is essential, but if it is not being looked at then we are just gathering data for the sake of it.
“We need to continue to increase the levels of engagement between all stakeholders. We are doomed to failure unless we take our people with us and are prepared to question and be challenged.”
PETRA Data Science CEO Dr Penny Stewart discussed the future of machine learning, which can help companies simulate their operation to increase mine productivity, efficiency and yield.
She said the technology can show engineers and supervisors how to reproduce their “best performance” around the clock.
The event also featured a presentation by Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology president Henrik Ager who explained why sustainability is critical for long-term performance.
“Improving productivity and greenhouse gas emissions will be the best way for us to add value for our customers,” he said.
“My view is that the more we link our sustainability targets to normal business targets and find ways to combine them to achieve a common good, the better chance we have to deliver on them.”