Putting Technology to Work
Gold crossed the $1,400/oz mark in June for the first time since August 2013. While thatís great news for those working in that sector, rising gold prices usually signal economic turbulence on the horizon, which could mean itís time for the other sectors (base metals and bulk commodities) to tighten their belts. Often the task of optimizing operations is assigned to the engineering staff at the mine. Using technology, they are constantly tinkering with ways to adjust operations. Rather than the trial-and-error techniques of the past, today they can use models to test future scenarios against changing demand and cost situations. With great speed, they can predict possible outcomes with a high level of accuracy.
Outsiders constantly berate the mining business for slow technology acceptance, but that is not the case. Few mining engineers doubted autonomous or operator- assisted haulage would be possible. Likewise, any plant manager who made the transition from distributed controls to PLCs would logically believe in the next step, the Internet of Things (IoT) technology, where sensors allow a central system to control the entire process. A mine is much different than a factory and advancements in technology have been integrated at a steady pace.
What is amazing is the large amounts of intellectual data the mining sector is collecting, storing and analyzing. They are using the more valuable data to better plan and execute the decision-making process to improve safety, productivity and profitability. This process, digitalization, can alleviate some of the mundane aspects of problem solving and allow engineers to see projects from another angle or in a different light.
The new developments taking place in the mining sector are not limited to surface operations. What has surprised a lot of people on the metal/non-metal side of the mining business is the rush toward battery-powered equipment. In this monthís article on Shotcrete, we see a segment of the industry embracing new technology to improve the pace of development, and a battery-powered shotcreting machine with the ability to recharge in minutes.
The success of professionals who develop and extract natural resources depends on how well they prepare for future uncertainty. With new tools, engineering departments can help improve profit margins and create an interesting place to work. This could also help the company sustain the market swings and attract more talented professionals. Enjoy this edition.
Steve Fiscor, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, E&MJ