On Monday, global mining company Rio Tinto reported that investment in new mining technology and automation innovation will likely sustain long-term competitiveness, and also create several new opportunities leading to more benefits for a strong mining industry.According to Mining Weekly, the report states that the costs and challenges of automating mining equipment would be massive, but even so, they would be outweighed by the delivered benefits.’The ‘BAEconomics’ report highlights the increasingly complex challenges being faced by the mining industry. Our industry is facing maturing orebodies, fewer tier-one deposits, increasingly complex geographies and labour shortages and the report details how innovation in autonomous technologies can play an important role in addressing these challenges,’ said Rio’s head of innovation, John McGagh.McGah added that a number of technologies are currently being tested that should provide substantial innovation to the industry. These breakthroughs could also potentially improve mine equipment for example sand washer performance.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the industry will likely become more capital intensive as companies plan to offset lower grades by keeping operating costs low. This can be achieved primarily through automation – from driverless trucks at mining sites to remote ship loading.
More companies will be forced to begin more remote operations, which will entails companies to perform a complete ‘step-change’ in research and development, perhaps with mine consultants.
Rio’s report noted that copper consumption in the next 24 years will exceed all copper mined to date, while the past 23 have accounted for at least half of all copper ever produced.
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According to Sky News, iron ore mines in Western Australia are becoming automated, with driverless vehicles and remote-control robots that may replace their human counterparts for situations that are seen as too dangerous.
The news source reported that there has been a push for the use of this new technology as a way to increase efficiency and provide more comfort for the humans who are now able to work from less remote sites.
‘This isn’t about job losses,’ Greg Lilleyman, president of Rio Tinto’s operations in the Pilbara region, told Sky News. ‘We get productivity gains, it’s helping us tackle the skills shortage we have in Australia and, of course, all of this means it ends up being more cost competitive as well, keeping ahead of the game in what is a pretty tight business model.’
One worker told the news source that instead of working in a near-desert environment, he is able to work in an air-controlled room while operating equipment in a distant location.
‘It is weird,’ he told Sky News. ‘It’s 1,500km away what your operating, but it’s good. It’s technology. It’s where the world’s moving to I guess.’
In These Times reported that the mining sector, in some countries, is looking to mirror what occurred in manufacturing, as automation led to higher efficiency but also new jobs that were not as labor-intensive.
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