What would you make happen automatically, if you could?

I know, I know — everything already happens like magic these days. Your laptop auto-connects to the WiFi at Starbucks. Google finishes your search for “hilarious cat video”. Your Ford Focus starts blasting Hall & Oates the second you hop behind the wheel (thanks, iTunes)!

Image of Hall and Oates

Still, aren’t there some things you wish happened without bugging you?

That’s the kind of thinking that drives a ton of engineering these days — especially when it comes to mining innovations.

Deloitte published its annual Tracking the Trends report a few weeks back and it’s chockful of predictions for the industry’s coming year. For 2017, it makes one thing crystal clear: Technology and automation matter more than ever.

It’s not much of a surprise. Computers and other technology have been transforming mining for a generation, at least. With most mines using fleet management systems and machine guidance, though, the so-called “low-hanging fruit” are gone. More and more, mines are looking outside the industry for ways to stay on top of efficiency.

In some cases, these outsider technologies get pretty wild.

Drones

Deloitte suggests that mines could start using drones in several ways in the near future. Drones could conduct aerial surveys, collecting geophysical data without interfering with regular operations. DroneCondition and safety inspections could occur remotely as well, as site staff go about their day-to-day activities. Equipped with advanced technology, drones could even assist in real-time monitoring of ore bodies.

Already, the chemical industry uses drones to inspect the safety of its infrastructure, such as tanks and elevated pipelines. As drones get cheaper and more powerful, it only makes sense to put them to use gathering imagery and data in areas that are difficult or unsafe to observe.

Wearable Technology

More than just FitBits, wearable technology has real application in industry too. Some sites – such as South Africa’s Beeshoek mine – are already experimenting with wearable mining innovations, like SmartCap.

SmartCap

In effect, SmartCap is an advanced fatigue monitoring tool in the guise of a baseball cap. It observes a wearer’s brain waves to determine his or her level of alertness. Other wearables could detect carbon monoxide or other gases. Smart vests or watches could indicate a worker’s GPS location. Then, they could send a signal to other tools on site, such as a collision avoidance system like our Fleet Awareness V2X. Really, any tool that discreetly examines the biological condition of workers has a real opportunity to boost safety throughout the industry.

3D Printing

3D printing has the potential to transform the maintenance supply chain for mines. Companies like Alcoa have already started 3D printing their parts (although only at a plant outside of Pittsburgh right now).3D printer

Instead of needing a massive warehouse for spare parts, an on-site 3D printer (fed by a huge drum of powdered metal) could supply everything needed for maintenance and upkeep. If sites had a 3D printer, lead times and inventory could stay at a minimum, streamlining the whole maintenance workflow.

Digital Twinning

Eventually, adding enough sensors and tags to equipment will give mines the ability to create digital twins of any component. Digital twins are like virtual companions — they duplicate the part in a digital environment. Sensors onboard can update the digital twin’s condition and give near real-time status of components to an asset health system, such as ReadyLine. That ability could completely change a mine’s maintenance program, letting workers examine the exact condition of any part before ever lifting the hood.

Moving into Internet of Things territory, a smart digital twin could even place an order for its physical replacement (or trigger a 3D printer to have a part ready for the equipment’s next scheduled PM).

More Apps?

All of these mining innovations fall somewhere between today’s technology and pie-in-the-sky thinking. With the gains at stake, though, they’re well worth a consideration.

Innovation in the mining industry isn’t just about slapping an app on everything and calling it a day, either, as Deloitte warns. Nobody needs an Uber for heavy haulers, a Snapchat for flocculation agitators.

Rather, it’s more about ingraining the spirit of innovation in a site itself. So, ask yourself: What’s really bugging you? Is there a better way to handle a problem? Can you automate a system to save millions of dollars of time and effort?

To find out all the trends that Deloitte has projected for the coming year, download its Tracking the Trends 2017 report here. For information about our advanced technology and integrations, e-mail info@wencomine.com or call 604.270.8277.