Mining is at the backbone of our society. Why? because minerals extracted from mines are a part of every process and most products created. It ultimately even enables all services by being a component of products and the infrastructure used to deliver them. Without Copper and Platinum the digital revolution wouldn’t have been possible since copper is supporting every electrical wiring while platinum provides for high speed internet through optic fibers. This important industry is now under a period of significant change and Stellar Capacity is working with clients in the industry to help them navigate these changes. In this blogpost we list the most discussed technical inventions affecting the industry moving forward and some interesting technical prototypes that could potentially impact space mining!
Real time data (IoT)
Robotics and AI have enabled more efficient mining for years now but there is currently an acceleration of the uptake, matching the new capabilities in AI with an ever growing number of new use cases. Mines of the future can utilize all collected data gathered from their processes into a central steered program for efficiency improvements achieved through IoT (internet of things). IoT enables in-depth communications between AI-robotics and their software systems by implementing sensors on various mining hardwares. These sensors create huge sets of data of the physical world, from every sensor and process, which generate big data of operations that in turn allows for hands-on monitoring, AI-optimized maintenance and analysis of the entire production chain. An early example of a mine who incorporated IoT into their entire value chain is Glencore's Matagami Zinc mine in Canada. With the interconnectedness of all mining assets, big data was generated and the company was able to view how their assets functioned in relation to the entire production chain. It enabled them to identify bottlenecks that were harming production whilst also presenting possible fixes to the issues at hand. IoT can, with the implementation of AI, utilize relevant data to predict when for example: maintenance is needed, instead of relying on seeming traditional predetermined maintenance schedules. With IoT, the central controlling station can get alerted when specific mining shafts become unstable, when machines stop operating or are deemed to create congestion in tunnels and suggest solutions for events yet to occur based on data collected. This is crucial to improve safety for the workforce, which will not only operate more effectively, but also feel safer in their working environment. The technique provides more control of operations that produce cost-saving means of production derived out of data collection, as well as adhering to safety concerns in an interconnected smart network!
The concept relies on utilization of data collected from IoT and other measurement methods. Digital twins is in short the digital manifestation of all data collected of parts or entire product chains, creating a virtual replica of industries operations. Boliden Aitik mine is for example effectively gathering and utilizing data with the creation of digital twins to assist in development of an optimal control strategy of Atiks copper grinding circuits. The digital twin allows for on demand testing of different strategies and procedures without needing to halt the production nor standing the risk of damaging any equipment. You can simulate what would happen if you change the operational circuits materials to rubber or diamonds with a multitude of additional options in order to test what can be improved for increased efficiency without disturbing production - effectively creating an indepth, intractable simulation-game of the process.
Seen from 'pit to port', the Harbor of Livorno on the coast west of Florence (Italy), has created a digital twin of their entire infrastructure which, like Boliden, allows for AI and human interaction with the digital replica, experimenting with operations to find alternatives with more efficient procedures. The leverage of visualized and simulated data of operations provide safety, economic and environmental values which combined estimates a 2.5 million euros in annual savings for the harbor! There are endless possibilities with Digital Twins, as long as you can cultivate relevant data from the physical world with the right sort of sensors!
In a not so far away future, your freshly bought Iphone 28XS might contain minerals from the moon or asteroids alike! Space mining describes the aspiration to exploit off-earth rare mineral deposits and like many of previous sci-fi ideas that have been realized, mining of space materials has the potential of being the future of mining in search of precious materials. Rolls-Royce is for example developing a mini nuclear unit in this aspiration, that can handle the harsh environment of space to both power energy consuming drilling and its transportation systems. The first model of its kind already has a date set for testing at the end of this decade (2029) and the prototype is based on transforming decaying heat into electrical energy via thermoelectric generators, which in short allows for a reliant energy source for consistent mobility and operations which is crucial in space. It also has the potential of allowing for consistent drilling, even on the dark side of the moon, without needing to rely on solar panels for energy which means that larger territories of stellar bodies hidden from the sun would be up for mineral extraction. The mini nuclear prototype can also provide an energy solution for the 3D printing construction of buildings on the moon, a possibility NASA is currently pursuing!
Space Robotics potential: Deep Sea
Another exciting innovation is the use of space robots in the deep sea. With its autonomous software program and robust hardware Aquanaut robot is prepared to perform different tasks from maintenance of offshore-infrastructure to rare mineral mining fully submerged in the depths of the Mariana Trench for example. By letting an AI robot scout the surrounding sea, mapping out spaces and identifying minerals with its wide range of sensors (like vision systems and infrared sensors), it gathers vast amounts of data that can be used for multiple purposes other than mining, for example infrastructure planning of oil rigs. Aquanaut has also found its uses in supporting the fastest growing ocean industry to date, offshore windparks. As the world struggles to combat soaring energy prices from the traditional forms of energy, wind power has seen an increasing interest because of its clean energy output and fast time from factory to service ready. Offshore windparks are ideal places for consistent wind, and Aquanaut has the ability to assist in its submerged maintenance- which makes the procedure more effective whilst not putting humans in harm's way. The possibilities are endless, not only does the sea provide a perfect testing environment for space bots, but it also opens up new territories for exploitation today without the need of submerging humans to do the dirty work. While the robot gets spacelike practice in its deployment in the ‘workforce’, the AI will be well practiced for when the time of space mining arrives.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells
This is an innovation that has the potential of reducing the mining industry's emissions by up to 30-50%, without sacrificing productivity! This new engine generates electricity from hydrogen, which then powers an electric motor like your typical electric car. The zero emission outage is especially needed in tight, underground spaces where health concerns are present. One great advantage of fuel cells is its ability to make its own electricity from stored hydrogen on the move, making the engine lighter and more efficient than traditional electric engines. Volvo Group is developing hydro fuel cells for heavy-duty and long-haul truck transport, all of which will enable a green transformation of the mining sector's end-to-end process and create a need for new logistics and competences.
The mining sector is undergoing a significant transformation, which will require a major upskilling of employees and leaders in the industry. With continuous development of advanced technology comes changes in the demands for further advanced skill set needs in the workforce. Competencies like strong computer skills, software knowledge and analytical skills will continue to grow so that big-data and AI implementations can be utilized efficiently in the end-to-end process moving forward. At the same time, the human skills of managing complexity and change, getting people on board with a new vision and work practices and creatively finding solutions to large problems, will also require an upskilling when it comes to skills like creativity, collaboration, and change management.
At Stellar Capacity, we are helping the mining sector both with an active upskilling when it comes to analytical skills and technology awareness but also when it comes to team-related and leadership skills.
Curious to learn more and also to learn how to adapt your skills for future technological advancements that align with your sector's future demand? In our customized programs for the mining industry, we address recent technological breakthroughs, challenges they represent and how companies can create a resilient culture and mindset to make the employees open to future disruptive change.
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