No question tech innovation is the next step change in our industry - and every industry. And I speak not from an OT/IT (Ops/Information Tech) base, but from the stand point of a 35+yrs hard core operator that has trottle medium to large operations from US and Canada to Africa, from Europe to Kazakstan, from Australia to Laos, seeing what lies ahead of our industry.
We are already seeing autonomous systems taking over, running drills, trucks, eventually shovels, with significant improvements delivering a safer and more productive operation. Expert systems are slowly permeating operational levels including motor speed, water flow, temperatures, auto-data analysis adjusting milling, and water/material flow inside circuits.
Robust ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) are being added to widespread condition monitoring, facilitated by low cost wireless sensors replacing expensive hard-wired systems, assisting in identifying where and when to intervene, linking the info with maintenance schedules, inventory of parts, resourcing planning. Drone mapping & measuring surface and underground operations with high precision are getting everywhere. Work conducted remotely already started under SWIS (See What I See), facilitating on-job execution & training, particularly in remote, less attractive areas to retain top talents - which in near future will be operating from the comfort of their home, wherever this is.
Businesses started being run under centralised ROC (Remote Operation Centres), with optimum integrated decision-taking place. Communications improving and will soon be flowing freely and quick, supported by high quality wireless/wide bands systems, running under private (or public once ready) 5G platforms.
Meaning less people exposed on sites, with repetitive work done 100% by machines, and controlled elsewhere. Eventually AI (Artificial Intelligence) will take over, optimising all chain - and consistently optimising it once we reach The Singularity - with MIT experts suggesting fully implemented by 2030 - which means “tomorrow” in any industrial term...!
What Could Block This Bright Future ?
But Technology is also latest fashion - everyone talking - lots of companies implementing, but not everyone getting expected value.
Some examples of autonomous systems implemented with poor haulroads and limited wireless band - large operating hours lost due to misplanning on basic haulroad design and comms capability. Introduction of high tech in areas where skills are v basic or non-existing - seems for the sake of fashion rather than business sense. Examples of decrease in op hours, increased cost, creeping complexity. ROCs implemented with still the same silo mindset as if they would still be site-operated - despite being in the same room.
And failures being questioned, particularly by the ones supporting the initial investment, but still to see the results.
What Went Right (and Wrong) ?
Important to reflect that some of the improvements in tech were found by chance rather than plan.