Remote control your mine

Investment in remote mining technology has reached a tipping point. What was once talked about as a future trend is now a tangible reality with remote solutions used daily for many mines.

And whether it’s solutions for monitoring the safety of miners or energy management services that deliver real-time intelligence to managers anywhere in the world, investment isn’t about to slow down.

In the months ahead, expect investment in remote monitoring solutions to be higher than ever. At this year’s AIMEX conference, we surveyed the views of delegates and found almost a third of those we spoke to are planning on upping their investment in remote mining technology over the next twelve months.

So what’s driving this trend and is it something that’s unique to Australia? On the latter point, to some extent the answer is yes.

The size and geography of Australia, combined with the number of remote mining locations, means solutions that enable the remote monitoring and running of plants are not just ‘nice to have’, but crucial to plant productivity.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then that investment in remote technology is particularly aggressive amongst Australia’s junior mines – something that’s being watched closely by mining markets overseas.

But it’s not just factors specific to Australia that’s driving remote mining investment. Other factors including labour shortages and productivity challenges are also fuelling investment.

On a global scale the mining industry is facing a severe labour squeeze. In fact, according to recent commentary from Deloitte, there is a 20-year gap in the mining industry as the sector was not attractive to graduates in the 80s and 90s.

The result, which is particularly acute in Australia, is that mining companies are lacking people with the right skills. While this issue cannot be solved by technology alone, the benefits of implementing remote mining technology are far from insignificant.

Take the remote monitoring of operations. The ability to assess the efficient running of a plant from any location negates the need to have large numbers of plant experts on site all of the time. The savings that can be achieved in terms of reduced labour costs can be huge.

These benefits are often magnified when monitoring systems are linked to a plant’s CCTV network. In this scenario, a maintenance expert will not only be able to be alerted to a fault remotely, but can actually assess the fault through a live video feed before making a decision on next steps.

According to recent analysis from CommSec, Australian mining has become less – not more – efficient over the past five years. While mining companies were receiving record prices and profits, there was little need to focus on productivity.

Now, however, the pressure to do more with less is constant, especially with increasing competition from overseas mining companies keen for their share of the mining boom.

This means that ensuring mines are running as efficiently as possible, making sure operating costs are kept down and throughput remains consistently high are top priorities for plant managers.

One way in which these challenges can be tackled successfully is through embracing a holistic approach to energy management. By monitoring energy use throughout a plant in real-time, mining companies can easily identify inefficiencies that not only waste energy, but affect outputs.

When this monitoring is done remotely, the benefits in terms of productivity can be even greater. That’s because no matter where a process expert is based they can easily log-on, at any time of day, to assess the efficiency of operations and take any necessary action.

In the months ahead we expect to see larger mining organisations making use of remote technologies that allow them to identify energy inefficiencies from plant to plant. Looking at energy efficiency remotely at an organisation-wide level will mean plant managers can compare the performance of their site versus other sites, and mining companies will be able to set benchmarks for efficiencies.

Never before has the mining sector seen so much change nor moved atsuch a rapid pace. Whether it’s overseas mining companies forming large-scale resource reserves through overseas investment or Australia’s continuing leadership in mining innovation there’s never been a more exciting time to work in the sector.

Increasing investment in remote mining technologies is not only a reflection of this change but a sign of what’s to come.

As issues surrounding labour and productivity become even greater within the mining sector expect to see not only junior mines but big players investing more heavily in remote operations.

Productivity challenges are increasing investment in remote mining solutions, writes Paul Cooper.Paul Cooper is General Manager – Mining, Minerals and Metals, Schneider Electric.

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