How open are mining companies to introducing new technologies and digital tools?
Available or reluctant to change? Good intentions or true conviction? In four questions Daniel Cattaneo, Digital Projects Leader of the Alta Ley Corporation, gives us his diagnosis of how committed (and advanced) the mining industry is with the adoption of 4.0 technologies.
How would you define the state of the art of digitization in the mining world? Are we more or less advanced than other industries?
Digitization in the mining world is currently in a state of rapid growth. More and more mining companies, and mining providers, are developing and adopting new digital technologies and tools to improve their operations, from exploration and planning to production and maintenance.
Compared to other industries, the mining industry has been slower to adopt digital technologies, particularly because of the complexity involved. However, in recent years, the adoption of digital technologies has increased significantly in the mining industry, and this growth is expected to continue in the near future.
The Roadmap "Digitalization for mining 4.0", launched in 2020 by Fundación Chile, the Mining Council and Corporación Alta Ley, presents some of the main challenges and opportunities that the development and implementation of 4.0 technologies entails. In this context, one of the challenges of the industry for the digitalization of the sector, defined in the Roadmap, is "to know the level of maturity of digitalization in Chilean mining", which was addressed by the Alta Ley Corporation, together with the consulting firm PMG, with the first Digital Transformation Index (ITD) 2021 -in this case with a focus on mining providers (ITD PM)-, allowing to know the current state of digital transformation. In line with this, and understanding that what is not measured cannot be managed, the 2nd ITD PM 2022 study served to address another relevant challenge raised in the aforementioned Roadmap: "develop a digital maturity model for Chilean mining". that allows to know the advances, gaps, challenges and new opportunities of the digitalization.
How open are mining companies to introducing new technologies and tools like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, IoT? Are they afraid of something?
In general, the industry has been increasingly open to introducing new 4.0 tools and technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, IoT, Big Data, augmented and virtual reality, among others. In fact, many companies are already implementing these technologies in their operations and have seen significant improvements in terms of efficiency, safety, profitability, and sustainability.
However, it is also true that some mining companies may be reluctant to adopt new technologies. This, mainly due to the high implementation costs (for this, both small and large-scale pilot tests are essential to validate these new technologies); the need for new knowledge and skills (and therefore more specialized human capital); the appearance of some security and privacy risks (for example, cyberattacks), and some changes in the organizational culture (which often implies incorporating new processes and aligning work teams).
In general, the implementation of new technologies in mining can be very favorable if the challenges that arise with their implementation are adequately addressed. The key is to ensure that the technology is suitable for the job and process at hand, that the workforce is trained to be able to exploit and take advantage of it, and that appropriate measures are in place to mitigate the associated risks.
What assessment do you give to the introduction of AI in mining processes, such as exploration?
The mineral exploration process is essential to determine the feasibility of extracting mineral resources in a specific area. A careful and exhaustive evaluation of the geology, resources, costs and environmental impacts is required before making the decision to develop the area. New tools and technologies can significantly improve the mineral exploration process by supporting improvements in the efficiency, accuracy, and safety of exploration activities.
Artificial Intelligence, for example, can be used to analyze and process large amounts of data and to identify patterns and trends that may not be apparent to humans. In addition, it helps to optimize exploration processes and predict the presence of mineral resources, if the models and algorithms are correctly trained.
What recommendation or advice would you give to companies that still do not dare to take the plunge?
I would basically recommend four paths. First, learn about the available technologies and their use. Being in technology watch mode, which allows you to learn about the tools available and investigate how they have been implemented in other industries.
Second, analyze the costs and benefits of implementing new technologies, taking into account the risks of adoption and operational continuity. A third path is piloting, a key alternative to test new technologies in a small part of your operation before implementing them in the entire operation. This can help minimize adoption risks and costs, and is a way to gradually and incrementally introduce innovations.
And finally, training. A relevant criterion to be able to take advantage of the new technologies is to work on a training and training plan for the work team and thus maximize the benefits of the new technologies.