Digital transformation is in full swing in the mining industry. Most of the top mining companies are searching for talent with experience in technologies like data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The search for tech talent stems from a wave of challenges that cast doubt on the future of mining and metals operations. Mining firms realize that in the face of macroeconomic uncertainty, geopolitical instability, and an aging workforce, automation is essential to remaining competitive. This article sets out to help you envision what digital transformation means for mining operations in two ways. First, by explaining the most urgent market drivers of digitalization in the industry. Secondly, by listing the most digitalized mining firms worldwide ABI Research has assessed.
Chart 1: Mining Digitalization Revenue
World Markets: 2022 to 2030
(Source: ABI Research)
Digital Transformation Drivers in Mining
Mining firms are turning to digital transformation to alleviate many external pressure points. From poor economic conditions to sustainability, the mining industry increasingly sees new technologies as the solution to emerging challenges. Below are the primary digital transformation drivers in mining:
- Compliance: Safety is a top priority for mining firms, with the deadly fire at ArcelorMittal’s coal mine in Kazakhstan still weighing heavily on the industry’s conscience. Industry must also adhere to emerging sustainability regulations to curb carbon emissions.
- Labor Shortages: Employment numbers in the coal mining industry have been down for more than a decade. This is a wake-up call for mining firms that younger workers are not attracted to their job openings. Therefore, it’s necessary to automate as many processes as possible.
- Cybersecurity: As mining firms become more digitally driven, this has introduced greater network vulnerability. Several recent cyberattacks on mining firms—from Optus in September 2022 to Freeport McMoRan in August 2023—have highlighted the cyber risks threatening the industry.
- Yield Improvement: Investing in new mining technologies to support quality assurance and avoid unplanned plant downtime with predictive maintenance and Asset Performance Management (APM).
- Process Optimization: With increased pressure to increase throughput and comply with safety or sustainability standards, digital twins are key. In order to work, digital twins require various mining operation data to be organized in a digital thread (read the blog post, Digital Thread vs Digital Twin, to learn more).
Mining Companies’ Digital Transformation Efforts
This section provides a list of the three mining firms that have made the most progress in digital transformation of their operations. As Chart 2 shows, Rio Tinto, BHP, and Anglo American lead the way.
Chart 2: Digital Maturity of Mining Companies
(Source: ABI Research)
Rio Tinto makes use of an exhaustive list of technologies in its mining operations, encompassing embedded automation, smart mining, AI, and a number of digitalization partners. The company is credited with deploying the world’s first fully autonomous railway system for heavy-haul, long-distance trains, which is called AutoHaul.
It’s reported that Rio Tinto is capable of conjoining 98% of operational data across its mining sites using the Mine Automation System (MAS). From automated drills to transport, virtually every aspect of mining operations can generate actionable data for Rio Tinto staff. AI and Machine Learning (ML) add an extra layer of intelligent insight to bolster safety and productivity.
BHP’s Information Technology (IT) operations have evolved to the point where staff are using cloud-native analytics and applications. Mining equipment is monitored, controlled, and optimized by BHP operators using Site Operations Center (SOC). The Australian company is also invested in fleet management systems, mobile fleet safety, machine automation, machine health, geotechnical seismic/radar monitoring systems, and process control networks/Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems.
Furthermore, BHP’s operations center is geared toward monitoring, analyzing, and escalating critical system alarms. Real-time plant data are fused with sophisticated data to help data analytics personnel identify patterns, trends, and correlations that can be tuned into actionable insight. The analytics software used by BHP is also provided with AI-based recommendations from Microsoft Azure to optimize decision-making.
Technology and digitalization form the foundation of Anglo American’s vision for the future of mining, as evidenced in its sustainability-centric FutureSmart Mining program. The idea of FutureSmart Mining is to create a “connected mine,” which necessitates various enabling technologies. Anglo American is aiming to use data to support business applications such as predictive intelligence, data integration, self-learning, automation, and sustainability.
To date, Anglo American has invested in automated drilling and blasting, remote safety controls for a copper mine in Peru, radar, and satellite images (for monitoring devices). The company also makes great use of digital twins to create virtual replicas of equipment, electrical systems, tailings management, water control, and other aspects of mining operations.
ABI Research is committed to covering all the latest technology trends making their way into the mining industry, among other industrial manufacturing sectors. The content in this blog post was sourced from our recently published Digital Transformation in the Mining Industry product, which is part of the Industrial & Manufacturing Markets Research Service. A subscription to the service area will provide your organization with the market data, best practices, investment priorities, tech drivers, and challenges shaping industrial firms today. Content deliverables come in the form of research reports, market forecast products, ABI Insights, blog posts, and Research Highlights (research report samples). Subscribe today!