During November, there were three announcements about integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) in solutions that support miners’ operations. The solutions’ potential is clear with Micromine’s Copilot supporting geologists’ analysis, Pitcrew AI helping to keep trucks running for as long as possible, and SentianAI looking to optimize processes. Prior to deployment though, users must fully understand the algorithms to remain in control.
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Innovations, Financing, and Acquisitions
November witnessed several announcements related to adopting Artificial Intelligence (AI) to reinforce miners’ operations:
- Micromine launched the Origin Copilot to support geologists’ workflows.
- Pitcrew AI offers a solution that combines computer vision, thermal imaging technology, and advanced AI to provide real-time detection of tire damage and imminent issues concerning the giant trucks that transport the ore for processing. The company completed a Series A financing round with backing from RCF Jolimont Mining Innovation Fund II-A L.P and early-stage fund Startmate.
- The Weir Group, a mining technology firm, acquired SentianAI, which looks to improve productivity across different processes at the mining plant, including optimizing crushing and grinding circuits.
These developments illustrate that AI is being used in earnest to support productivity, safety, and the sustainability of miners’ operations.
AI Is Being Used across the Mining Value Chain
Both Micromine and Pitcrew AI are headquartered in Australia where mining firms have been early adopters of digital technologies (see ABI Research’s Digital Transformation in the Mining Industry report (AN-5424)).
Headquartered in Perth, Micromine’s Origin Copilot enables geologists at mining firms to not only process information collected from a site, but Copilot also a displays supplementary information, highlights trends, enables geologists to test scenarios based on their estimations, and provides recommendations.
Over in New South Wales, Pitcrew AI provides customers with solar or battery-powered mounted units that include a cellular data connection and are placed at the road side. Computer vision identifies the vehicle and in conjunction with thermal imaging technology and AI scans the tires and vehicle to identify any external faults. Pitcrew AI detects whether the tires are getting too warm and unsafe or are too worn. The images and videos are communicated via Short Messaging Service (SMS) or e-mail to maintenance teams. In addition to improving safety, the benefits include replacing tires and conducting maintenance when needed; avoiding unplanned and unnecessary disruptions, as well as tires being scrapped prematurely.
Founded in 2016 and based in Malmö, Sweden, SentianAI develops AI algorithms that can continuously learn and adjust to changes in a mine’s processes; enabling mining firms to improve and optimize their operations. Deployments of SentianAI’s SentianController have helped increase recovery rates from floatation tanks and increasing throughput from crushing and grinding processes. The Weir Group focuses on helping mining firms improve production efficiency and reduce their Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions. The plan is for SentianAI to complement the performance monitoring capabilities of its Synertrex platform (insights related to equipment performance) and the Motion Metrics machine vision solution that focuses on the mine’s processes.
Of the three solutions outlined above, SentianAI stands out because it has the potential to disrupt the market for Supervisory Control and Acquisition Data (SCADA) systems in the mining industry. This is because the SentianController solution automatically chooses the optimal control parameters if changes are made to the process. The algorithms accommodate the changes in the model and make predictions based upon them. Furthermore, SentianController does not require the customer to have a team of data scientists to prepare the algorithms prior to deployment. The algorithms are developed for optimizing control systems and then fed the customer’s historical and live operational data.
Staying in Control
The above examples illustrate how AI is being embedded into software solutions, but more importantly, how the technology is supporting existing workflows and improving processes.
But users need to appreciate both the capabilities and how the technology comes to its recommendations. Geologists using Micromine and maintenance teams using Pitcrew AI need to understand how the solutions treat and analyze data. SentianAI appears to have considered this with the customer controlling the extent to which AI controls the operations, rather than fully automating the operations straightaway.
Mining firms have embraced AI to improve their processes and productivity, but both mining firms and technology suppliers need to continue efforts regarding how AI can improve the safety of mining operations with November also witnessing several accidents:
- Accident involving the lift shaft at Impala Platinum in South Africa kills 11
- Workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in Uttarakhand, India for 17 days
- Four miners killed in an accident at the Sobieski coal mine in Poland
With mining firms having to report their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) credentials, including safety, ABI Research expects that mining firms will listen keenly to solutions that will help them demonstrate they operate productively, sustainably, and safely.