The mining sector has been in the midst of a market challenge for the last decade thanks in part to falling prices and demand as operations are continually forced to review business plans and cut costs wherever possible.
As a result of this, more operations have investigated how new mining and industrial technology and connected equipment can help drive down unnecessary costs and improve operational efficiency, without increasing risks to health and safety.
A recent report by PwC for instance highlighted that apart from health and safety improvements, technology investment is one of the prime focusses of the main mining operators across the world in the coming years.
The report predicted that the next decade will see mines become more digitally focussed, particularly in areas of exploration and health and safety, while data driven operations are going to become a major part of these industries.
This point is further made by research by the World Economic Forum and Accenture, which predicts that autonomous operations, connected workers, smart sensors and remote operations centres could add as much as $180bn in extra value to the industry.
More investment in mobile
One of the biggest operational outgoings, and health and safety challenges, has been the reliance on static environmental monitoring equipment, which is both cumbersome to set up and maintain in hazardous environments and difficult to deploy in fast paced industrial environments.
Mobile monitoring equipment has seen a big uptake in recent years, but as personal monitoring equipment becomes more reliable, robust and cost effective, these devices are due to see more investment in the coming years.
For example, operatives with personal gas or dust detection monitors can more easily explore new areas with the confidence that they will be instantly alerted to atmospheric changes.
This ability to monitor the atmosphere in real time not only helps reduce operational costs - as workers can carry out tasks more efficiently without the need to move heavy machinery around - but also increases the health and safety aspects of industrial and mining operations.
Improved battery technology and life spans
When it comes to ongoing operational costs, the upfront cost of machinery can often pale in comparison to the continuing price of consumables and replacement parts.
Battery technology is a prime example of how new investments are helping to improve worker safety and operational costs.
Equipment with longer battery life results in a reduction in instances of devices needing to be recharged - as well as less downtime during these periods - and also means that workers can be more confident that their devices are constantly monitoring for changes in the environment for a longer period.
It is perhaps the use of inductive charging technology that is seeing the most significant investment, with this technology resulting in less charge failures as a result of corroded contacts - a serious issue in hazardous environments - while the ability to safely change batteries in hazardous and explosive environment greatly reducing the operational costs of workers having to move to a "safe zone" to change devices and recharge equipment.
AI, automation and IoT in monitoring
Looking further ahead to the future of mining and industrial sectors, the use of real-time data collection and monitoring is likely to see the greatest investment, and that includes the adoption of artificial intelligence, automation and IoT.
Monitoring technology across mining and industrial sectors gathers huge amounts of data on a constant basis; whether this is changes in the environment or atmosphere, or equipment performance.
AI and IoT have seen huge increases in investment across almost every business sector, and mining is no exception.
Having the capability to analyse data in real time and determine actionable insights from this data can not only improve the instant operational efficiency and health and safety aspects of projects, but can also help to inform future actions or trouble areas and help to resolve problems before they become an issue.
For instance, being able to monitor to performance of equipment in real time can help to alert when a particular piece of machinery is no longer operating at its optimum level. In this past this would have only become clear after the equipment malfunctioned, resulting in lost time while a replacement is installed and potentially resulting in worker injury.
Using AI and IoT, project managers can determine the minute a device is no longer working efficiently and put in plans to have it replaced before it completely shuts down, reducing the downtime and removing the danger of injury.
Similarly, being able to analyse environment or atmospheric changes using these predictive tools can help to inform future project planning, ensuring that any new explorations or drilling have been fully planned out before any hazardous work takes place.
As economic pressures continue to put a strain on mining and industrial operations it is widely predicted that technology investment will become more of a focus for operational and project managers.
Using technology in the right way can help to vastly improve operational efficiency and output while also improving worker health and safety at the same time.