Will underground mining replace surface mining in the future?
A wave of influential factors – including economic, political, environmental and technological advances – strongly suggest that underground mining will be the miner’s method of necessity in the not-so-distant future.
Mineral explorers and project developers are increasingly unable to find economically viable deposits with a proven plan for open-pit mining operations. Many companies currently operating surface mines will be looking towards brownfield underground operations to expand operations and extend mine life.
This, however, is not the entire foundation for the future of underground mining.
Emerging economies across the globe are growing their middle-class populations in bustling urban centers, putting ever-increasing demands on mining operations to produce the raw materials that make modern society possible, from infrastructure to consumer goods.
However, while consumers want a new car, a television and even renewable energy infrastructure, they tend to no longer accept the environmental and social costs that surface mining has on their communities. Policymakers and neighbors of mining operations vocally reject the visual impact of an open-pit, a waste dump and the destruction of habitat it brings during construction and operations.
“They are unwilling to accept the loss of farmland, the possible impacts on ground and surface water, loss of recreational space or the noise and traffic issues stemming from truck traffic associated with surface mining,” according to the research. “Underground Mining for Meeting Environmental Concerns – A Strategic Approach for Sustainable Mining in Future.”
The pioneering work of Newtrax is eliminating the current digital divide between surface mines and underground mines to make operations safer, environmentally sustainable and more profitable.
Big Data is helping to reach ore deposits more economically
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are helping miners reach underground ore deposits more economically. Digital twinning, first created by NASA, allows geologists and engineers to develop predictive work models using real-time data from the field to test out production scenarios before they are implemented, leading to productivity and environmental improvements.
Real-time data improving productivity
Rio Tinto generates 2.4 terabytes of data every minute from mobile equipment and sensors at its 16 mines, 1,500km of rail, three ports around the globe. Data-driven precision mining powered by machine learning will make the mining industry more profitable. The data helps miners know how much of the ore has been extracted and which direction it has traveled – key performance indicators vital to driving improvements in the mine. This can be especially helpful in block caving, an efficient underground mining method that uses gravity to force ore to strategic draw points below. Other miners are reducing fuel and energy costs by using smart machines to sort mined material based on set criteria defined by real-time analytics.
IoT technology is making underground mining safer
Working deep within an underground mine is dark, wet and inherently hazardous. Having initially adopted a ‘fast follower’ approach to IoT technology, the notoriously risk-averse sector is finally waking up to the fact that data is now, arguably, its most precious commodity, with 40% of mining businesses now expecting to leverage the technology within the next 12 months.
IoT has the potential to improve safety, automate machinery operation, facilitate predictive rather than preventative maintenance, improve traceability and harness real-time data and analytics.
Equipment performance and maintenance
Unplanned downtime is very costly to mining operations. Mobile equipment sensors give miners real-time health checks of their equipment, including temperature, speed, and vibration. This allows operators to predict when to schedule planned maintenance. In underground room and pillar settings, this can keep an operation in continuous production, avoiding costly shutdowns.
The ability to access this data empowers mining companies to understand the precise manner in which their machines are being used, how well each individual machine is functioning, and can offer predictive suggestions to increase both productivity and profit.
The data mining of today is literally setting the groundwork for the next-generation underground mine that will be powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning capable of producing incredibly productive operations that protect human life and the environment.
Learn how Big Data, IoT, and Predictive Maintenance can help you?
Contact a Newtrax Expert to answer all your questions on how our custom solutions can integrate seamlessly with your underground mining operation.