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The New Technology Changing the Face of the Mining Industry… And Why Upskilling is a Must

2017 has seen a new phenomenon rise up in mining, and it could be about to change how we perceive the industry forever. Digital mining has become a trending topic in recent months, and it’s Australia that’s on forefront of this new wave. But what exactly does digital mining mean, where’s it going and what what are the implications for people working in the industry.

What is Digital Mining?
At the the heart of the ‘digital mine’ is a push to incorporate new technologies into mining. Drones, autonomous trucks, wearables and even the Internet of Things are being sounded out – and in some cases are already being used – to extract more value from the ‘traditional mine’ model. Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton have already begun to deploy autonomous trucks of some of their sites, and the autonomous model is quickly becoming the norm in the Pilbara in Western Australia.

Likewise, as of August 2017, plans were in place to begin trialling fully autonomous drones in Australia, starting at the Worsley Alumina project in Western Australia. According to Joseph Urli, director of flight operations in Australia, drones would remove the ‘3 Ds’ from the mining industry: danger, and dull and dirty jobs.

What’s Next?
Beside the safety of workers, the main motivations for the digital mine are higher production and lower costs. And with carrots dangling in front of the industry influencers, it’s easy to imagine that digitalising the work will take high precedence. According to a report published by Accenture entitled ‘Digital Mining’ companies are already shifting their business models to accommodate the latest technological advances. And while, as of yet, no mining companies have publicly laid out a blueprint as to the extent and speed that they’re planning on digitalising, it’s something that is expected to continue being incorporated at a steady rate.

Who Will the Digital Mine Affect?
One of the biggest concerns voiced over the prospect of digital mine has come from the workers themselves. There is a fear that the skill-sets required will change, and therefore force people out of their careers. For instance, operating autonomous vehicles and drones requires specific technical knowledge.

However, for some this is an exciting prospect. It’s an opportunity to create new jobs within the industry, and appeal to a new generation of prospective miners. Northern Star Resources CEO Stuart Tonkin has pointed to a lack of workers in the industry, saying there is ‘a shortage of people who are interested in going into underground mining. So just the sheer education and getting people excited about it is part of this whole program we’ve embarked on.’

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