When people talk about ‘business agility’ industries like mining and manufacturing are not usually first to mind.
But while the notion of business agility has always been associated with lean start-ups and small businesses, for mining and manufacturing organisations, being able to change with the times and embrace new technology to reduce costs and drive efficiency is now more important than ever.
Old methods have to change – and executives across industrial manufacturing are aware of the importance of innovation and business agility.
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.
In any mining operation, uncharted areas must be investigated and assessed to ensure both structural integrity and complete employee safety.
These areas, however, might be gas-ridden and the use of standard gas detection equipment could be unfeasible if these areas are cramped and compact.
In these instances, mining operatives need a wireless and portable gas detection solution that can provide real-time analysis of the atmosphere, and connect to a mine-wide gas detection system, giving them complete control over operations.
Hauling standard equipment to these sites is time-consuming when balanced against the speed and capability of a wireless, portable gas detection solution, while advancements in wireless technology has meant the use of these portable systems is now much easier.
So, what exactly are the benefits of a truly wireless and portable gas detection solution?
The mining industry continues to treat safety as a prime concern - and rightly so as mining operators strive for a goal of zero fatalities and incidents.
This safety objective however is set against a background of profits being squeezed and the resultant drive to increase operational efficiency. Even if the mining sector has moved on since those days of Haldane and his canaries, one thing that has remained constant is the harsh and unforgiving environment of mining operations. The good news is that those challenging surroundings are being tamed by the application of innovative safety technology.
While mining safety has improved considerably over the last two decades, mining is still one of the most dangerous occupations in the world.
On a routine basis, miners are exposed to a number of serious hazards: cave-ins, floods, gas explosions, wet surfaces, chemical exposure, dust, fumes, moving and falling machinery, and others.
In many instances, individual solutions are in place to mitigate these problems; but as new tools and techniques are utilised in mines, a more holistic and real-time approach to mine safety must be considered.
Despite increases in safety, mining remains one of the most dangerous and hazardous sectors to work in - mostly because of the unpredictable and often confined areas in which operatives work.
One of the major concerns within the mining sector is the integrity of the tunnels and shafts themselves. Effective monitoring is vital to ensure the integrity of the mine and the safety of the workers. Comprehensive strata control and monitoring instruments form the backbone of your mining and tunnelling operation.
Rock-bolting has replaced standing supports such as steel arches in underground mining operations as the best method of supporting and controlling strata. Using this technique has led to significantly reduced costs, greatly increased productivity and considerably higher levels of safety. To support this technique of strata support and control it is necessary to monitor the strata for mine safety.
It is becoming cliché to say that technology is changing the face of business sectors all over the world, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening and the mining and manufacturing sectors are no different.
While traditionally labour-intensive and reliant on heavy, static equipment, smart and connected technology is now showing potential to completely change how mining and manufacturing businesses operate.
From remote and mobile environment and equipment monitoring, to real-time data and analytics to machine learning and automation, there is seemingly no end to the benefits new mining and manufacturing technology is bringing to historically industrial sectors.
Despite technology making hazardous environments much safer than they have historically been, there remains a serious risk of danger in some mining and industrial environments.
Large and cumbersome equipment, which needs to be operative and monitored 24/7, not to mention operatives working in confined spaces, possibly being exposed to hazardous chemicals or fumes, means management of these environments remains as challenging as ever.
On the other hand, more mobile equipment which can be easily moved around an environment, or even worn by operatives, is helping make headway in the battle for a safer work environment, but these bring entirely new challenges, with much of the equipment requiring constant wireless connections to work properly, plus needing to operate in some of the harshest environments around.
Like many industries, mining is being transformed by technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
The ability to instantly gather and analyse environmental and equipment data, and carry out real time risk and area assessments is a big benefit to large scale operations, particularly those like mining, when operatives are working in a compact, changing and potentially dangerous environment.
From increasing automation and removing human operatives from dangerous environments, to real time atmospheric monitoring and safety alerts, to more efficient operations through equipment monitoring, new connected technology is having a massive impact on the future of the mining sectors.
But are IoT and AI technologies really the beneficial platforms they appear to be? And what exactly can they do for mining operations?
Traditional worker well-being has primarily focused on improving workplace safety.
Whether avoiding injuries due to slips and trips, or falling or faulty equipment, keeping employees safe and free from injury has been – and will continue to be – a major part of industrial workplace health and safety.
In recent years however there has been a shift from focussing on general safety towards promoting employees’ long term health – especially the potential impacts on long-term health associated with working in hazardous environments.